"That is the hardest thing I have ever done, 700 odd rally kilometres without being able to use the clutch, bloody rewarding though!"

That was Steve Shepheard's reaction to getting over the finish line at the International Rally of Queensland (IROQ) for a seventh outright finish in the latest round of the Australian Rally Championship (ARC), and continuing to hold down fourth in the ARC points score.

With this year's IROQ being changed to a endurance format in both length and the point score system, the SACHS Rally Team were always focused on getting to the Sunday afternoon finish with out major issues or missing stages.

"Rally Queensland has always been a high attrition event, so the plan is always to keep your nose clean, get to the end and you will be rewarded with a good result," said SACHS Rally Team Manager Reg Shepheard.

"But with another 70 odd kilometres of competition, and now a single event from start to finish, these will be the two hardest days rallying this year in the ARC."

The Saturday morning stages ran well for the car with a second quickest stage time, and holding down fifth position.

A new dad only two weeks ago, navigator John McCarthy noted- "For the first few stages still had some very tricky slippery bits from the rain earlier in the week, so we chose the right tyre with Kumho 800 pattern."

In the first stage after the lunch time service, the event changed for the worse when the throw out bearing that operates the clutch broke, leaving Steve unable to operate the clutch to change gears.

"John and I could not believe it, but we just pushed on in the hope the crew could fix it at the 45 minute evening service."

But the job of pulling out the gear box, replacing the broken bearing and putting the gear box back is a two hour process, this meant the team would loose enough time that they would not be eligible for full event points, so the decision was made to soldier on as is and try to get to the finish.

So began 210km of competitive stages and 500 km of liaison with out being able to use the clutch.

"Once the car was going at speed, we could just flat change the gears, but to start the car from a standing stop we had to start it using the engine starter motor, or push start it," Shepheard explained.

"Once we were at speed on stages, it was all pretty cool, we just had to be careful on stop go corners not to stall the car."

Throughout Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning the team hovered between fifth and seventh outright, and were still able to set consistent top stage times even though they were losing 20 - 30 seconds at the start of each stage having to start the car moving with the starter motor.

The question on everyone's lips was how long would the gear box last?

The SACHS Rally Team run a ALBINS Off Road Gear custom build 'dog gear box' in their Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 10, and this is the only reason Steve and John could get through.

"The new ALBINS box was tough, but 210km competitive stages while still pushing hard, and 500 km liaison driving with no clutch is so far beyond anything I could have expected, that box is so ridiculously tough and well built, an absolute testament to ALBINS," Shepheard said.

Due to natural attrition of the other competitors, the car ran as high as fifth outright Sunday afternoon, but the crew elected to back off a few percent and preserve the gearbox to get to the end, keeping the championship in mind.

Steve and John were able to limp the car through the final 35 km stage and crawl over the finish line to collect seventh overall, and some valuable series points.

"We just never gave up, we thought ahead on every stage start and finish to make sure we did not get stuck having to start the car on an uphill slope," Shepheard said.

"The service crew made sure that no cars held us up in the service park, or traffic caused us to stop while driving through town, otherwise that may have been the end."

The SACHS Rally Team now head into the final ARC round this year in fourth position, only a few points behind third.

An enthused Shepheard said in closing- "We cant wait for Victoria, there a few teams and we are all gunning for the two remaining podium positions in this years series, so it's going to be a real dog fight, just the way we like it."

The SACHS Rally Team wish to thank their partners, SACHS, ALBINS Off Road Gear, GSA Wholesale Suspension, and Accord Body Works.
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