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They say 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger', and after my freezing night on the back seat of the rally car in Blaney, it was now time to get into rally mode. At this stage of my rallying 'career' I'd only done seven rallies, and my regular co-driver wasn't able to make the trip to Bathurst – something about football commitments, if I remember correctly. So I had enlisted Wagga's Greg Day, an experienced co-driver who came with a good reputation. I knew 'of' Greg, but had never met him, so our meet and greet in pit lane at Bathurst was an awkward experience. A quick look at the car had Greg feeling even more underwhelmed. A standard 2-litre engine with a single downdraught Weber, standard gearbox and brakes, and open 3.9:1 diff and a basic alloy roll cage. And a back seat!
Nevertheless, we headed off into the first stage, and one of Bathurst rallying's iconic tests – Hen and Chicken Lane, eight kilometres of S.P.E.E.D.
Testing my new co-driver's nerves and the Escort's standard brakes to the limit, we had managed to make our way up through the field during the daylight stages. After starting as car 29 in the field, we had advanced to 20th outright and 1st in the Grade 4 (novice) category by the evening service break in Sunny Corner Forest, where once again the Bathurst weather was baring its teeth. The freeze of the night before had given way to rain, and the stages were already showing the signs of wear.

Peter Whitten with his Escort at the Bathurst Rally in 1990.

By now, too, we had issues of our own, after a rock had ripped a rear brake line off the car on the final stage before the service. The problem was unable to be repaired using the tools and spares we had, and the smart thing would have been to pull the pin and head home early. That wasn't even a thought in my young head though, so we headed off into the night stages with front brakes only, and with the weather deteriorating. Inevitably, a tightening corner caught me out, I locked the front brakes and we understeered off the road, where we became stuck fast in the mud. We lost count of the number of logs and rocks that disappeared into the mud as we tried desperately to jack the car up and extricate it from the bog, before we eventually gave up to await the sweep car.
Our relief at seeing the sweep car soon turned to despair when we realised that it was the infamous Ed "Hooligan" Mulligan at the wheel.
After explaining we were pushing on with only front brakes in the heavy rain, he shook his head and grumbled: "How old are you?" "Nineteen," I replied sheepishly. "Hmmm. I'll pull you out this time, but if you ever do this again, I'll kick your a#$%," he replied. It was good advice. We went back the following year, not only winning the Grade 4 category, but finishing 12th outright against a brace of four-wheel drive cars .... and in typically wet Bathurst weather!

A successful run at Bathurst ended in tears. Photo: Ian Douglas

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Author

Peter Whitten

Peter has been the editor of RallySport Magazine since its inception in 1989, in both printed and online form. He is a long-time competitor, event organiser and official, as well as working in the media. In 2020 he received a Motorsport Australia 'Media Service Award'.
Peter has been the editor of RallySport Magazine since its inception in 1989, in both printed and online form. He is a long-time competitor, event organiser and official, as well as working in the media. In 2020 he received a Motorsport Australia 'Media Service Award'.