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Wednesday marked the middle of this year’s Classic Outback Trial and as crews left Lasseters at 7.30am for the earliest start to the event, little did they know it would become the toughest day yet.

Prior to the day’s competition getting under way, Dan Murphy and Simon Pilepich (Lada Samara) would collect the COT gnomes for their against the odds battle in the smallest capacity car in the field, and without a service crew they endured a long night repairing and preparing their car. Six special stages, covering 208 competitive kilometres taking in the sublime Rainbow Valley would make up the running for day four.

Having dropped significant time on Tuesday afternoon, Neil Cuthbert and Sue Evans kicked off the day in fine style, taking the opening stage by 17 seconds from Jorge Perez Companc (Escort RS1800) with Classic competition leader Andrew Travis (Gazelle) a further five seconds back. Punching well above their weight with possibly the stand out performance of the event so far were Graeme Wallis and Bruce Ward in the sensible little Peugeot 205, claiming the fourth fastest time on the opening test.

Orange Creek (SS21) tested crews’ skills, patience and determination with heavy sand approximately 30 kilometres into the stage, trapping many competitors for an extensive period of time. Crews who managed to negotiate the sand bogs reported up to nine cars being stuck at a single time, while Simon Pilepich in the Lada later stated that camaraderie came to the fore, with everyone helping each other. Stephen Riley and John Doble in the Cross Country Holden were just one of the crews who stopped to assist.

At day’s end a decision was made to downgrade (delete) the stage taking all circumstances involved to negate late time penalties and to avoid penalising competitors who were acting in the spirit of the event to assist others overcoming the conditions.

After an impressive debut run in Australia, the Argentine challenge from Jorge Perez Companc ended with engine failure on the final stage, elevating Cuthbert to second.

Local NT driver Ben Kittle had a scare en route to Lasseters in the morning when he blew a differential, however managed to locate and fit a replacement in time, before setting two fastest stage times to extend his lead to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, Chris and Blake McCormack's brilliant start to the day in their Mitsubishi Magna ended with a broken gearbox.

Stephen Riley and John Doble (Holden Commodore VF Utility) once again displayed their class, winning all stages in the Cross Country event to extend their lead to over 30 minutes.

The penultimate day of the Classic Outback Trial features one of the longest special stages seen in Australia in decades with a challenging 121km test, before two shorter stages to round out the day.


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