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Former RallySport Magazine correspondent, Neil Blackbourn, jumps into the co-driver's seat for the final round of the NSW RallySprint Championship, the Peter Rogers Real Estate Bathurst Rallysprint. This is his story on his introduction to pace notes.

About 15 years ago I was down to co-drive for a mate of mine in an LA Lancer in the WA bush. Being Mundaring, and raining all the week before the event was canned, I was gutted, and I had not had another opportunity to experience first hand the joys of pace noting.

Years ago also the editor of the paper version of what you are reading now called me ‘Nicky Grist’ for jumping in a rally car with a friend. Well, that name is now my son’s (Nicky – not Grist!) but a friend, Bob Stevens, had bought a Toyota Starlet (of all things!) for his kids to khanacross and maybe rally in.

However his National Rally Licence was nearing expiry and with no events to do this year he decided that to keep his licence he would have to compete in a stage event. The Oberon Rally was decided on, to be run on October 31, but that was canned. So we entered the NSW State Rallysprint Championship’s final round, the Peter Rogers Real Estate Bathurst Rallysprint, to be held one week later in the Sunny Corner area of NSW, near Bathurst, to be run by the Bathurst Light Car Club.

And despite only getting eight entries (some coming from as far away as Wingham and Nabiac on the mid-north coast!) the event went ahead, a great credit to Gwyn Mulholland and the whole organising team. And thank goodness it did! We had a blast! We at the Christian Autosports Club of Australia are very grateful. We got a run, and a friend new to rallying got a run also, as a day to get his ex-tarmac racing tyres dirty!

The day dawned typical Sunny Corner – wet across the mountains but thankfully dry on the other side. There was a wind chill factor, so the race suits would not be too warm today! And as in preparation we had decided to try pace notes, and had been taught a simple system by an ex-NSW Rally Champion co-driver friend, Peter Harris, Bob and I took off in the Starlet to write pace notes on the escorted recce. I then had about 20 minutes to make them legible before our first run! Thank goodness I had gone mad at a local office shop and bought too many pencils, erasers and art books – I had everything.

So we sort the helmets, make sure the intercom works, start the car and head to the start. Our time slot comes up, I hand over the card, the clock counts down and the 1296cc of raw power is unleashed towards what would be the first call of the day – ‘160 Left 3 tightens don’t go wide’ in my best Nicky Grist (maybe Glenn Macneall?!) accent.

We skate into the corner with a wee bit of opposite lock through the first part and then go wide out towards the big drop that caused the ‘don’t go wide’ note. We repeat this the other two times we go around this corner also! And on – the notes seem to flow quite well until half way through the section when I lose my way for a couple of corners, but get them back just in time for a ‘right 3 tightens’. Always a good time to get back on the notes!

Bob has always seemed like a good driver to me and the first section confirms it. He has driven this car only once before, and we are sideways in the best Datsun style he knows. He should have a Datsun style, he owns three of them at the minute and has owned almost all the 1600/ Stanza/ 200B back catalogue! He even has the only known Datsun 710 sedan in the country, in his garage!

Despite this being a front-drive Starlet and not a Datto, I have the confidence in the driver to spend most of the sections laughing with Bob at the fact that the little Toyota is coming back for more whilst having the daylights beaten out of it!

We have the biggest smiles and laughs after an over exuberant ‘left 5’ is corrected in the notes halfway through the corner with the same remark at the exact same time - ‘LEFT 4!’ - as we discover the corner is definitely tighter than we had thought! Our simple 1 to 8 system is working wonders, and with a car that is certainly not the fastest, we have the time to ease ourselves into a whole new world of speed and control.

I have a few lapses during the day that all co-drivers have had in their lifetimes – turning two pages, getting so excited about the ride that you lose your place in the notes, writing left when the corner is right. We develop a system between us as to how the notes are written. Bob tells me the stuff that he wants in and I add a whole lot more. “It all makes so much sense out there in the car, mate,” he tells me at the half way mark. That is what I want to hear – I have much confidence in him and his driving, and he in me and the notes. Oh, and both of us in the car!

The reverse direction runs that will make up the second half of the event is preceded again by a recce run. My second attempt at noting seems much better than the first – they are pretty much legible straight away. Which is just as well as we have time only to put our helmets on and go to the start after the recce! The buggy takes off in front of us, and we can see the first two corners. He spears off on the second one – front suspension failure the cause. We are then unwittingly one place higher than our fourth at the meal break.  

But placings are not what we are here for. We have holed one tyre, and then put rears on it, new ones. There’s no grip in the rear end until Bob lowers the tyre pressures. Issue fixed. So we sail into one of the faster parts of the section, a right 6 and we have used all of the road. Off line there are a whole lot of rocks we have cleared off the road in previous attempts, along with the rest of the field. Bob still has it nailed with no intention of backing off. We hear some big bangs from under the car, but there we are back on the road and still steaming towards the next corner. Awesome! I toy with the idea of adding a ‘tightens – or ‘>’ in pace note language, but I resist.

The last two runs of 8km each beckon and we are having a ball. There is one section of a ‘left 5 > into left 3 > into right 6 don’t go wide into R6 into L1’. See, the language is catching! Bob nails it every time. The last R3 before them on the last run sees Bob confident enough to leave the braking until about the 25 metre mark! And the Starlet comes through, steaming through the corner with the tail out and the throttle on!

Near the end there are some humps that have been the little car’s nemesis the whole day. We launch over the last one, having us both thinking ‘they don’t steer well in the air’ as we fly literally towards the L5 that follows! We both think that may hurt us, but we are still laughing when we have to apologise to the nice ladies at the finish yet again for our smoking brakes!

And the last run of 8km. We NAILED this. Every note was right, we hit almost every apex and the Starlet was on form. Seeing friends and family out the window on the way through made it even better! Even the R4 we went wide on had bushes there to push the shopping trolley back onto the road! And then it was finished and our grins were duly noted by the finish control ladies for the 8th time that day! Oh yeah, we had fun!

And so to the tall stories at the finish around the barbie and the drinks and then the trip home, from what was easily one of the most enjoyable days I have ever spent in motorsport. And I wasn’t even driving! That is why pace notes, mixed in with good mates and big laughs, make pace notes popular.

My personal thanks must go to Bob and Rosie Stevens for the invitation to co-drive and learn our new skills, and to Peter Harris for the encouragement and expertise to teach us the pace noting system we used, and hopefully will use again. And Brad Glasson for the suit and helm et. Look out for Brad in future – he will be quick in the world of rallying, I believe. And to the BLCC and Peter Rogers Real Estate for not backing out of running the event, what a great decision!

Oh – and the Starlet, with its newly converted to pace notes crew, finished third outright! We will be back, and hope to see more than eight cars next time. You will have just as much fun as we did.

Photos: Geoff Benson, Bathurst Light Car Club

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