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In motorsport it seems there’s more to being a winner than just being able to drive fast. As well as having a fast car, exceptional driving skills and a fair proportion of luck, a good dose of good, old fashioned cunning seems to make the difference when it really counts.

Take Geoff Portman’s outstanding result on the first stage of Heat 2 in the recent NGK Rally of Melbourne; driving a 25 year old 6-cylinder Commodore, the Yarra Valley resident launched out of the starting blocks to record outright sixth fastest time against Australia’s best drivers on the wet and slippery Kalatha stage. Just 35 seconds slower than stage winner, Scott Pedder, Portman dug deep into his suitcase of knowledge, surprising many observers with his times.

Portman’s entry into the event was a fairly low key affair, considering the quality of the opposition. The Commodore that he and a bunch of mates had quickly cobbled together in the weeks preceeding the event, was hardly state of the art.

It was very much an unknown quantity, having only undergone a very brief test in the week before the rally. Also playing against a good result was the fact that Portman’s navigator, Melbourne builder Stephen Robinson, was sitting in the co-driver’s seat for the very first time. Truly, their entry looked like being a baptism of fire for not only the crew, but for the whole team behind the project.

Day one looked like setting the pattern for the whole exercise – a broken throttle cable on the first stage doing nothing to instill confidence in the team. However the remainder of the day went pretty much according to plan and they were comfortable with their result by the day’s end.
But while the dry and dusty conditions might have suited the majority of the field, Portman was more than happy when he woke on Sunday morning to the sound of heavy rain on the roof.

There are some things that you learn after a long career in rallying, and one of them that the Kinglake rabbit breeder learnt during his championship-winning days was that no matter how fast you are in the dry, maintaining that speed in the wet is a gift that not everyone is blessed with.

Nobody would have ever believed that an ancient 2WD Commodore could hope to get anywhere near the times being set by the 4WD brigade, but Portman knew that this was where his trump card would come into play. Selecting the narrowest possible Dunlop tyres for the rear of his Commodore, and against the advice of his service crew, he chose tyres that he knew would be able to cut down through the mud to firm ground underneath.

While everybody else was using tyres designed for dry conditions, Portman called on his years of experience to blast through the stage to record sixth fastest, a stage time obviously far quicker than many of the 4WD turbo cars in his wake. And this was despite stalling the car at a hairpin near the stage finish!

“I know most of these guys can drive in the dry, but let’s see how good they are in the wet,” said Portman, unofficially laying down the gauntlet. By the end of the Kalatha stage, he’d proved his point as he crossed the finish line in his underpowered, but more importantly, undamaged Commodore.

Had the two cancelled stages, withdrawn after trees fell across the stages, been left in the event, the Portman advantage may have displayed itself even more. Nevertheless, the point had been proved.

LEARN TO DRIVE WITH GEOFF PORTMAN

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