When Ed Ordynski and Ross Runnalls stood on the dais to spray the champagne after winning the 1995 Mobil 1 Round Australia Trial in their Holden Commodore, neither could believe the standing ovation that they received from the crowd.
In an instant, the pair were part of Australian rallying history, spoken of in the same breath as the crews of the winning trio of Commodores that blitzed the 1979 Repco Reliability Trial, the last major around-continent event prior to the 1995 event.
For Ordynski and Runnalls, it was the culmination of an incredible three weeks on the road that ended in a win by just 10 minutes and 10 seconds after more than 18,000 kilometres.
As in 1979, Holden had entered three Commodores in the event, hoping to match their one-two-three outright finishing record that saw Peter Brock, Rauno Aaltonen and Wayne Bell pilot their cars to a formation finish at the Melbourne Showgrounds.
This time around Ordynski, a contracted driver to Mitsubishi Australia, Peter Brock, legendary touring car driver and Bathurst champion, and Ross Dunkerton, a multiple Australian champion and former Mitsubishi driver, had the company’s reputation on the line.
As it turned out, “The General” wasn’t quite as successful this time around, but nevertheless upheld the company’s honour by again getting one of its cars home in first place.
The winning crew of Ordynski and Runnalls was an unusual choice. Ordynski had never met Runnalls, a Victorian forestry officer, before, but their relationship gelled immediately.
An official Holden postcard from the 1979 Round Australia Trial, 50 years ago this August.
One of Australia’s best navigators (and an Australian champion navigator as well after a successful career with Geoff Portman), Runnalls was an obvious choice to ensure Ordynski stayed on track.
As for the South Australian, numerous Group N wins at Rally Australia and a long program contesting the Australian Rally Championship stood him in good stead for what turned out to be a flat-out blast around the continent.
As he had done in 1979, Queensland’s George Shepheard built a trio of extremely fast, strong and reliable Commodores and by anyone’s calculations, the Commodores were going to be the cars to beat.
The choice of a 2WD car instead of the turbocharged 4WD rockets that Ordynski had been used to driving, was seen as no problem. Shepheard constructed a Commodore “mule” early on which was tested extensively by Ordynski and others.
Ordynski remembers the car was incredibly strong, yet he still had doubts that it would be fast enough to keep up with the 4WDs that were expected to enter. But proof positive was forthcoming, and in early 1995 the Commodore was entered in the Keema Classic Rally in Queensland.
Its performance certainly raised a few eyebrows, finishing second to event-winner Stewart Reid’s Toyota Celica GT4.
Testing out of the way and all three cars ready to go, the last few weeks before the event started in mid June were hectic and made more uncertain when the final entry list was published.
It revealed that there was going to be some serious opposition in the form of a number of Mitsubishi 4WD turbocharged rally cars to be driven by Michael Guest, Dinta Officer, Steve Ashton, Tony Wurf and others.
All the waiting and uncertainty came to a head when the 167-strong field left the start in Brisbane’s Queen’s Mall at 12.30pm on June 13, ready for their 18,500 kilometre anti-clockwise trip around Australia.
Peter Brock led a Holden 1-2-3 in the 1979 Repco Reliability Trial around Australia.
Under the direction of Bob Watson, the event was generally expected to be a flat-out race from day one in which only the very best cars and crews would complete the course.
Ordynski’s worst fear was that his car would suffer a problem early in the trial, which he would battle with for the rest of the event. His worst fears were realized on the very first stage when a pin broke in the rear suspension, and although little time was lost on the stage, it took a good deal of service time to fix.
Three stages later, the Commodore slid sideways on a patch of wet grass and smashed into a rock, destroying a tyre and wheel. Ten years of driving 4WD cars had to be unlearnt if the 2WD Commodore was to make it to the finish.
Surprisingly, this was the first and only puncture the car suffered for the entire event.
Holden’s fortunes took a further dive soon after. Peter Brock slid off the road just seven hours from the start and had to be dragged back by teammate Ross Dunkerton.
To make matters worse, Brock then reversed into Dunkerton’s car, damaging both. Then, on the next stage at Coffs Harbour, Brock holed his Commodore’s radiator with a stick and dropped from fifth to 46th.
All chances of a repeat victory were now dashed. Brock struggled on to finish a lowly 31st by event end.
Adding to Holden’s list of problems, Ross Dunkerton hit a large kangaroo on the third leg, just outside Seymour in Victoria, damaging the front of the car.
Worse was to come, though. Just kilometers later he tore the front right wheel and suspension out of his car in a deep culvert. In a reciprocal gesture from the previous day, Peter Brock pulled him back onto the road, then sped off, forcing Dunkerton to limp to service.
Dunkerton and co-driver Noel Richards plummeted from third to 27th place.
Ordynski and Runnalls outlasted their 4WD opposition to win the 1995 Round Australia Trial. Photo: Stuart Bowes
Things were not looking good for the Holdens. Dunkerton, trying as he may to reduce his deficit, soldiered on until a burnt piston ended his charge just outside Mt Isa, and he was forced to retire.
As expected, once the flag dropped the 4WDs cleared out from the rest of the field. Dinta Officer was well out in front in his Lancer RS, with Michael Guest and Rod Salmon (VR4) close behind, and all that the Commodores could do was to stay as close as possible, hoping that the Mitsubishis would break in the expected rough conditions.
Officer’s gearbox failed on the leg into Alice Springs, leaving Guest in the lead.
The Gunbarrel Highway, once one of the notorious Round Australia horror stretches, was now a vastly different road, and the Commodores were able to sit on 160–180km/h comfortably. Ordynski and Runnalls arrived at control three hours early, with the car still in perfect condition.
The expected rough conditions materialized once the field headed north from Perth, and Ordynski was able to catch and pass Guest as the latter picked his way through the rugged outback tracks.
Just out of Broome, Guest was dealt a cruel blow when his alternator failed, allowing Ordynski and Runnalls to take the coveted dust-free first spot on the road.
Running for the first time in clear air, Ordynski opened up a 13 minute advantage as the Commodore was given its head. They arrived in Darwin leading, but with a new concern.
Ordynski explained at the time: “Many of the rough stages had been graded and the car-breaking roads which we had planned to charge over, were now perfectly suited to 4WD turbo rally cars.
“We had no option but to drive like maniacs, rarely backing off for cautions and scanning the tracks for surfaces that would give extra traction. I was becoming paranoid that we would get bogged in one of the long sandy river crossings, or that we would be unable to ford a deep creek.
Ed Ordynski won the 1995 Round Australia Trial for Holden. Photo: Stuart Bowes
“Or maybe the roads would be so smooth that Guest and Salmon would rip two or three seconds per kilometer from us. We needed rough tracks and we weren’t getting any.”
Aided by their dust-free position on the road, they were able to maintain their lead and even extend it. But, just like the plot from a thriller movie, their elation changed to despair just 50 kilometres from the finish.
Ordynski takes up the story: “Braking hard for a downhill corner, the car jumped out of third gear. I tried to put it back in but there was nothing there bar terrible noises.
“The direct-drive fourth gear seemed the best option, but we still had 25 kilometers of steep mountain stage to go.
“I was sure the car would grind to a halt, but incredibly the big, torquey six climbed out of uphill hairpins at 1000rpm in fourth gear, lugged through creek crossings and kept us going at a pace that meant that Michael Guest and Steve Ashton were the only ones who passed us.”
With the very possible chance that they would be forced to retire so agonizingly close to the finish, the crew got on to the radio and contacted their service crew to arrange for a spare gearbox to be fitted in the next town.
When they arrived in town for the gearbox change, there was a Toyota truck on the town garage’s only hoist. This was quickly removed, the Commodore hoisted into the air, the faulty gearbox removed and a new one installed, all in just 19 of the 20 minutes service time allowed.
Still shaking from their ordeal, Ordynski and Runnalls sped off on the last transport stage and the finish ramp.
Ordynski: “The rest was just a blur, including crossing the finish line where the crowds were amazing. We felt quite claustrophobic.
“Some of the crew had tears in their eyes and Ross Runnalls and I were sort of shell-shocked. I was besieged by the media who kept asking how it felt to win and how I had managed it.
“Even now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can only find one sentence to describe it – we simply did the best we could.”
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