Of all the Rally Australias that RallySport Magazine have attended since 1989, by far the most memorable is the 1996 event, when torrential rain flooded the Bunnings water crossing and saw the factory cars stranded. Chaos reigned, and it’s likely that the ensuing scene has never been, and will never be, repeated in the World Rally Championship again.

Long before the days when the base of the Bunnings watersplash had been given a concrete bottom, the base of the creek was natural, and the depth was dependent on how much rain had fallen in recent days and weeks. On some of the drier years, the crossing was even dammed in order to make it more exciting for the spectators.

However, on this dreary day in 1996, no such damming was required. The rain had started overnight and by the time everyone arrived at Bunnings for the famous stages, the place was nearly awash and staying on the road was going to be a real challenge.

A precursor to what was to come took place when Peter Brock and Dick Johnson drove over the stage before the rally cars started. Brock was first and managed to drown his Commodore in the crossing, much to the delight of Johnson, who sailed his Falcon across the water, tooting at Brock and giving his arch rival the thumbs up!

All three course cars got through the water, as did World Champion Tommi Makinen, who was the first car on the road. Makinen cautiously negotiated the water, knowing the problems that could follow if he stalled his car.

The excitement came when Carlos Sainz arrived with more speed, drowning his Ford Escort and having to be pushed to the other side. The Subarus of Kenneth Eriksson and Colin McRae then suffered a similar fate. There was much joviality in the crowd by now, particularly when McRae’s father, Jimmy, emerged from behind the bunting, waded up to his knees in water and started pushing his son’s car toward drier land.

McRae (Jnr) eventually restarted his engine and drove out past the others to the end of the stage.

News travelled fast and suddenly there was chaos at the scene. Mindful that this was a no-service area, engineers ran down and gave instructions to the drivers as to what they had to do to get their cars going again. Bruno Thiry removed his Ford’s spark plugs and turned the engine over, with water spectacularly spurting out of the plugholes.

Sainz and Eriksson could only watch and wonder if their cars had suffered a similar fate.

Prodrive boss, David Richards, tried to push Eriksson’s car, but it became jammed across the track and FIA stewards argued that he was trying to block the stage deliberately. Sainz’s co-driver, Luis Moya, stood at the water’s edge and waved other drivers down to stop them from trying to cross the water, while team managers stood amidst the crowds in the middle of the road giving their opinions to eager television crews.

Eventually there was a big bank up of cars on the other side of the crossing, and organisers had no option but to cancel the stage. The line of rally cars driving UP the Bunnings jumps as they returned to service was a sight to behold.

Fortunately all the cars that had ingested water were able to restart after the following service break, but one of the most amazing scenes in WRC history had been etched into the minds of all those rally fans lucky enough to be there to witness it.

Later that afternoon, the Langley Park Super Special Stage caused almost as many problems, with cars driving in mud that was inches thick. Dozens of cars hit the concrete barriers, causing even more chaos.

It was, without doubt, the most memorable Rally Australia ever held.


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