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Hopes of catching 2008 Red Centre to Gold Coast Trial leaders David ‘Dinta’ and Kate Officer in their 1970 Mitsubishi Colt Galant were dashed this morning, when their major rivals were slowed by their dust as the remnants of the 70-car field drove through the night from Birdsville to Bourke, via a rest break at Tibooburra.

Leaving Tibooburra at 2.00am, Steuart Snooks – who is navigating for Mike Batten in the third-placed Datsun P510 – said the combination of the still night air, their lights and the dust of the Officers and the second-placed Datsun 260Z of Graham Alexander and David Stewart, made driving at speed “a real nightmare”.

“It was a real battle to find the course, let alone make up serious time,” said Snooks, who along with Batten is still rueing their early puncture near Mt.Isa a week ago that cost them five minutes.
“We have been faster than the 260Z even since, but we are still playing catch-up,” he said.

Their hopes, and those of Alexander and Stewart, suffered a further setback this afternoon when the last of today’s five special stages had to be cancelled when Bourke Police declared access roads to the stage a crime scene because of a local incident.

“That stage would really have suited us and we could have made up more time on Alexander,” said Snooks. “Now there are only six stages and 163km of competitive driving to go, so the pressure is really on.”

Even with their problems, the Datsun P510 crew have closed to within 1min.20sec. of second place in the 11-day, 7,600km Trial, but they acknowledge that the Officers – who are more than seven minutes clear in the lead  – are virtually uncatchable unless they have major misfortune.

And things DO happen, as the Offcers found out yesterday, when a large kangaroo collided with the back door of their Galant – fortunately without major damage. It could have been a real dent for ‘Dinta’s’ Trial hopes.

In fourth place as he field prepares to leave Bourke for Goondiwindi via a further four special stages tomorrow, is the Datsun Skyline C210 of Alan Upton and Matt De Vaus, while an excellent fifth place is now held by the 1974 Peugeot 504Ti of Andy Crane and Tony Jordan.

They leapfrogged the Datsun 260Z crew of Jonathan Savage and Sebastian Tham this morning when the Kenyan crew missed a turn on the first transport section of the day and travelled15km before realising their mistake.

“This is the car’s first event,” said a delighted Andy Crane in Bourke. “Apart all the usual fixable problems, nothing has gone wrong.”

Tomorrow morning (Friday, Sept 19), the field departs the Bourke Show Grounds from 7.00am on their way to Goondiwindi, where the first car is scheduled to arrive at the Rugby League Club at 5.50pm.

The event officially finishes in Victoria Square, Broadbeach Mall on Queensland’s Gold Coast from 3.30pm on Saturday afternoon, September 20, but not before completing two final special stages, including one named ‘Fat Lady Sings’ by event organiser Bob Watson, that is designed to create a dramatic finish.

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