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As a mode of accommodation, the back seat of an Escort Mk2 rally car is about as uncomfortable as it gets, but when you have no other option, it will do the job. RSM's Peter Whitten looks back over some of the lighter moments from his 30+ years in rallying. * * * * * Back in the 1990 I was on apprentice wages but desperately wanting to expand my rallying career interstate. I'd been entering local rounds of the Riverina North East Rally Series, but the lure of driving in the Bathurst Rally, and using roads around the famed Mt Panorama circuit, proved too good to resist. Like most club rally drivers, my program was on a shoe-string with every spare cent going into the rally car, and using family, friends and anything else available to get to and from events. The trek from Wangaratta to Bathurst began after work on a Friday afternoon, ahead of a one-day, 170km competitive rally that would end with a further six-hour drive on Sunday.
The plan was to drive to Young on Friday night, stay in a cabin, then continue to Bathurst on Saturday morning for a midday start. Easy peasy!
The problem was that when we arrived in Young around 9pm that night, the key hadn't been left in the cabin door, and the owners of the caravan park couldn't be located. After much umming and ahhing, the decision was made to continue on to Bathurst and work it out from there.

Peter Whitten with his Ford Escort at Mt Panorama after the 1990 Bathurst Rally.

By the time we arrived in Blaney, around 11pm, we were having trouble staying awake and needed to stop for sleep before things turned ugly. No problems, we thought, we'll just pull in to the Blaney caravan park, use their toilets and sleep the night in the car. And so we did.
However, an EA Falcon sedan isn't really suitable for four people to sleep and prepare for a state championship rally, so the youngest of the team (me!) kindly offered to sleep in the rally car.
In 1990, Production Rally Cars were still required to retain their trim and the back seat, so I squeezed in between the seats and roll cage and tried to catch some shut-eye ..... with the car still on the trailer! What followed was surely the worst night of sleep I've ever encountered.

Peter Whitten and Greg Day tackling a stage at Mt Panorama in the 1990 Bathurst Rally. Photo: Ian Douglas

Not only was the back seat incredibly uncomfortable and cramped, but Blaney is also one of the coldest places in NSW in winter, and the sub-zero temperatures meant I spent the night shivering almost uncontrollably. Eventually, and after what seemed like an eternity, dawn broke, with ice on the windows and on the ground around me. With nobody else around and everyone else in the park blissfully asleep, we made our way to the caravan park shower block where we tried desperately to get some heat back into our freezing bodies.
I'm sure the park's owners never even knew we'd visited, but we are forever indebted to them for their 'hospitality'.
Two hours later we were at the base of Mt Panorama, unloading the car from the trailer and going through our pre-event plans. What followed was an introduction with a brand new co-driver, my first interstate rally, and an interesting interaction with Aussie rally legend, the infamous Ed Mulligan. But that's a story for another day .....
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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'.