As cars become more adept in their design and manufacture so that we, the general motoring public, can move about in quiet, powerful and safe luxury, especially compared to 20 years ago, the ability to modify cars to make them more suitable to gravel rallying becomes more difficult.
There are many small engineering firms specialising in bodyshell development, engine development or driveline and suspension improvements, particularly for competition cars. They can achieve results that the layperson in their garage at home can simply no longer do safely or technically.
These rally-oriented organisations are becoming such that the sport could not do without them. They are as integral to the modern rally car as any driver or co-driver input, especially now with complex engineering, suspension, and computer-controlled electronics coming with every new car these days.
When was the last time a new car was sold with a mechanical distributor?
Steve Kaitler working with 'Monster' Tajima and Suzuki Sport.
Whilst the new crop of young technicians may come with a university degree or from a specialist Motorsport Diploma program, there are many very clever engineers that have learnt their trade through the experience of working with, or in some lucky cases, for the Datsun, Ford, Holden or Mitsubishi works rally teams of the 70s and 80s.
In some cases, they have handed their knowledge and hard-won skills onto their offspring or siblings. In some cases, they have gone back to university and TAFE to obtain newer and more upscale skills, particularly in electronics.
Kaitler Motorsport Engineering is one such firm. Steve Kaitler is the man behind it.
A quiet, short and stocky country lad from Corowa in the Riverina of New South Wales, Steve left Corowa High School in fourth form (Year 10) to follow a motor mechanic‘s apprenticeship – but only for a couple of years until he switched trades to carpentry.
Building things like houses and roofs out of wood offered Steve an insight and understanding of how mechanical things act together, especially load paths and load transfer dynamics. These would be invaluable in later days with the design and development of roll cages and suspension systems.
His older brother, Tom, was a mad keen race and rally enthusiast and Steve soon developed a keen interest in rallying and began to build up a Datsun 1600.
Steve and Tom were also good mates with another country fellow, Les Collins, whom they met when attending Wodonga Technical School. Les is famous for not only engineering the Geoff Portman “Grunter” Datsun 1600, but more recently for his ability to extract massive performance gains from relatively basic engines.
“After the building thing wore thin, I joined Les at Datrally Developments as an engine builder. Les taught me just so much, he was terrific to learn from,” Steve explains.
Steve moved on to the Nissan Racing Team during the turbo-Bluebird Group C era.
“You get yourself into a factory team any way you can!”