A ‘mild-mannered’ school teacher by profession, Ed Ordynski was the consummate rally professional – fast, reliable, presentable, articulate and a champion many times over.
In rallying today, young guns on both sides of the Tasman are showing their form to win events, championships and in the case of Haydon Padden, his first outright WRC victory in 2016.
However, this new generation of young rallyists may be oblivious to the efforts of some of our stars of the sport during the 90s and 2000s in Australia, New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific region.
Typically, names emerge and disappear after a period of intense involvement in the sport, having achieved their desire to compete and succeed …… or simply having run out of funds.
The archives show that a group of drivers dominated the Australian rally scene for about 10 years from the mid-90s at a time when factory involvement from the likes of Mitsubishi, Subaru and Toyota was the norm.
RallySport Magazine sat down with one of those ex-drivers to ask what a pro-rally driver does when his high-profile rally career comes to an end.
A ‘mild-mannered’ school teacher by profession, Ed Ordynski was the consummate rally professional – fast, reliable, presentable, articulate and a champion many times over.
Early days for Ed Ordynski, driving a Toyota Corolla KE10 in 1974.
RSM: As a retired factory rally driver, what occupies your days now?Ed Ordynski: I’m genuinely retired, not just from rallying, and have been for ten years. The great thing about retirement is that you don’t have to do anything in particular – that’s a huge change in my lifestyle. I’m still busy, but it’s nothing like it used to be.
I do a great deal of motorcycle riding, usually off-road trails or adventure riding and have a whole new circle of mates with similar time on their hands. I also travel and visit people I no longer get to catch up with via motorsport. I probably do half a dozen pieces of work a year, but I’m fortunate to be able to choose things that are really interesting and motivating.
Most of my car involvement is with energy efficient vehicles – I’ve tested all sorts of electric cars, hybrids and so on, including a Mercedes Benz hydrogen fuel cell model, and designed events for manufacturers to showcase energy efficiency. My specialty is relating motorsport and high performance to energy efficiency.
How did you know it was the right time to withdraw from top-level competition?
I didn’t get to choose. I was driving home from the initial set-up and testing of Scott Pedder’s Evo 8 in Wombat State Forest with the new Alan Heaphy-run Ralliart team when the call came from Japan that Mitsubishi was withdrawing from motorsports globally.
I was contracted to Mitsubishi for another 18 months (til mid-2006), so I assisted Mitsubishi with the transition from a factory Ralliart team to Alan’s now privately-run TMR operation.
I was nearly 50 years old then and it seemed like fate had intervened in suggesting 2005 was a good time to stop. Mitsubishi was fantastic to me, paid out my contract, so I was free to drive or work for other manufacturers if I wished, and they even let me keep the Pajero I had at the time.
When I look back, I’m sure I would have been one of those drivers who didn’t know when to stop, so I’m quite grateful for how it all worked out – more than 30 years in the sport, most of it full time.
Like many Aussie rally drivers, Ordynski cut his teeth in a Datsun 1600 in club rallying.
When was your last competitive rally outing?
The Rally of Lithgow, 2007, in a Hyundai Excel. It was one of the most enjoyable rallies I’ve done. Iain Stewart and I were reunited for the event to help promote the Hyundai series in the NSW Championship. We came second after a great battle with Glenn Farrant and Anna Ritson, who won and went on to take the series, the second time for Glenn.
Glenn sent me a tee shirt his team produced, emblazoned with “I was there when Glenn beat Ed”. I still have it. It’s a great memento and I doubt if Glenn realises what a treasured item it is, being from my very last rally.
Incidentally, my last international rally was driving Cody Crocker’s Subaru in the 2005 Rally of Longyou in China (2nd overall) when Cody was unavailable, and my last national event was Rally SA in a Toyota in 2005 when Neal Bates very graciously organised for me to drive a GpN (P) Corolla to mark 30 years in the ARC, both events with Iain Stewart co-driving.
So my last four rallies were in four different brands of car. It was kind of fitting in a way because I started rallying in a Toyota Corolla, Subaru provided a start into a professional career with the RX Turbo in the ‘80s, and Mitsubishi was like a family for nearly 20 years.
Do you remember your emotions when you crossed the finish line of the last rally stage you contested?
Professionally I never got to experience that as my career ended without notice. The three events I did after that were clearly ‘one-offs’ and I already had my head around being retired. But I certainly recall the elation Iain Stewart and I had at the end of the Lithgow Rally as it was a furious battle through the night section, the Hyundais were well inside the top 10 on many stages and we had given it our best.
Ordynski drove one of the first Subaru RX Turbos imported into Australia in the 1980s.
Did you enjoy the constant travelling around the country and the world?
Both yes and no. My career took off so strongly that the constant commitments and travel began to take their toll and by 1995 I knew I couldn’t keep going the way I was, both physically and mentally. In that year, I did the ARC during the co-efficient system, eight rounds, plus Canberra and WRC Rally Australia as the high co-efficient events – 10 ARC rallies that year.
I also competed in Rally New Zealand and did gravel notes for Ralliart in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. I drove in the Eastern Creek 12 Hour race for Volvo, as co-driver to Win Percy, and then did the Sandown 500 and the Bathurst 1000 with Mark Poole, with part sponsorship from Holden and Bridgestone. I also did V8 testing with Holden Racing Team at Calder.
I had a separate contract with Mitsubishi for product launches and we did several of those nationally, taking in all capital cities each time. In itself, that contract could have been a full time job. I also had a contract with Bridgestone for original equipment tyre development.
I was also running China Racing School, a joint venture between Federation Auto Sports China and Mitsubishi as the sponsor – meaning five trips to China, training 30 students each time and taking the finalists to a one-make race series.
Then on top of all of that was the Mobil 1 ‘Round Australia Trial with Holden, a huge commitment and year-long project in itself, not just on the event, but all the testing, preparation and sponsorship requirements. It was a great insight into how hard Peter Brock worked too as we were both on continual duties for Holden, Mobil and Bridgestone as team-mates for that event.
All of the competitive events had ongoing test programs and extensive promotional commitments. I was exhausted. At the end of the 20,000km ‘Round Australia, I left to do recce for another rally. When I finished my second stint in the Bathurst 1000, I left the track and caught a flight to Seoul, Korea.
I was away from home for over eight months and always on flights and in hotels. They were great years and I’m grateful for the wonderful opportunities, but also glad that intensity ceased.
Group N success with Harry Mansson at Rally Australia in 1991. Photo: Stuart Bowes
Were you happy to come home and settle down finally?
Yes, very much so. I still feel like it’s only just starting after 10 years out of the sport.
It’s definitely ‘Life after rallying’ and with being on the go for such an extraordinarily long career, it’s also doing all those other things I didn’t get to do for 34 years while so committed to the sport, and the opportunities it provided, 24/7.
Were there any ‘post rallying blues’ for you?
Yes, in two areas. Firstly, I’m very much a forward thinker and was always looking at the next event whenever we crossed the finish line or, indeed, toward the next season. Suddenly in your life, when there’s no ‘next event’ you can feel a little lost.
But the hardest one to deal with was no longer being part of a team. I was in a close-knit, team situation since I left high school and it didn’t cease until I hit 50 years of age. That whole lifestyle of being immersed in a team of like-minded people, totally focussed on the next event and constantly being measured against other like-minded teams, is a powerful and addictive way to live your life.
Victory in the 1995 Round Australia Trial with the factory Holden Commodore. Photo: Stuart Bowes
During your competition years, did you actually plan for ‘retirement’?
Yes, constantly. I joined a superannuation scheme at 17 years of age while at Uni, giving up 7% of my meagre income. Then when my professional career took off, I set up a self-managed fund and put aside everything I could in case it all stopped one day.
That was all in place before I was 40 when I figured that no way I could still be a factory driver after such an old age.
Things then went on ‘til 50 so retirement was an easy decision from a financial perspective. Possum Bourne, Neal Bates and I were fortunate to be in an era when, to our manufacturers, we were the equivalent of V8 Supercar drivers and I think all three of us coming from families where money was tight, we didn’t squander the period in which our earning power was high.
What did you think you would be doing post-rallying?
Exactly what I’m doing now, enjoying discovering another life and all of the things many people take for granted that I didn’t get to do.
Pushing the Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 7 to its limits at Rally SA in 2004. Photo: Peter Whitten
Did it work out as planned?
Yes, because plans were in place, fortunately well ahead of when the outcome was required.
What do you miss most about competitive rallying on a full-time basis?
The feeling of placing the car accurately on the road, sliding into corners, making the apexes by centimetres, lining up blind crests perfectly, writing pacenotes – all of those things that inspire you to take up rallying in the first place.
Plus all those years of doing that with the best equipment, few budgetary constraints, being encouraged to go as hard as you can regardless of damage, unlimited tyres, new cars on standby – it is really like a boyhood dream being in a full-time environment.
Do you maintain contact with your old foes like Neal Bates, Cody Crocker, etc?
I don’t think of anyone in the sport as a foe, more like colleagues. Rallying is a great family and I reckon we all got on pretty well and with say, Neal Bates, I think I’m more friends with him now than when I was driving.
I’m in touch with pretty much everyone I knew back then, especially via social media, which obviously makes it so easy. I’m also very much in contact with overseas colleagues, officials, administrators, members of the media, parents and children of fellow competitors – it is a big family and you accept and forgive the few you didn’t get on with or clashed with.
Ed Ordynski during his factory Mitsubishi days.
Thinking back, in which team did you feel most comfortable? Where were you able to explore your limits with the support of the team?
Both Les Walkden Rallying and Team Mitsubishi Ralliart, because there was great overlap between the two. I was only ever contracted to Mitsubishi Motors and it is Mitsubishi that provided sponsorship to LWR when I drove for Les, and to Ralliart Australia when I drove for Doug Stewart and Bob Riley. Even when the sponsorship went to Les, it did so via Ralliart.
Both were fantastic working relationships, helped a great deal because we were all colleagues and I wasn’t employed by the team itself, which I think is by far the best way and I would advise any young driver to maintain their independence, contractually.
Both LWR and Ralliart actively encouraged you to be the best you could. I probably had the best working relationship, in terms of understanding me personally and supporting even when things didn’t go to plan, with Bob Riley at Ralliart; and with Les, the best mateship if you like, plus like me, he wanted to get the best equipment and future technology in the cars – he was driven by the next event.
Both Bob and Les were great drivers so you always received the understanding they would have liked themselves and both were incredibly appreciative when you delivered more than they expected.
Even the teams I drove for in one-off events offered tremendous support – like George Shepheard’s team in the ‘Round Australia Trial, where George personally devoted himself far above and beyond what was expected in management, to make sure you had every opportunity to win.
Ed Ordynski at Rally Australia in 2004. Photo: Stuart Bowes
You had a long, fruitful and successful relationship with Mitsubishi. Did you ever have the opportunity to pursue opportunities with other manufacturers on a professional driving level – Subaru, Toyota?
Yes, on many occasions, as any professional driver does. Subaru of course, was instrumental in my early career when I was driving the RX Turbos, and I have a good relationship with current Managing Director, Nick Senior. When Subaru was looking for a second driver to join Possum, Nick rang me for some advice about young drivers he should watch – I listed Cody Crocker first, along with several others – and then he said, “I don’t suppose you’re free to drive a Subaru again?” which we both laughed at, as clearly I wasn’t. Would’ve been incredible to drive alongside Possum, mind you!
Also, when Les Walkden changed from Mitsubishi to Subaru, I had the chance then to make the change, especially as Les had secured sponsorship from Subaru, but I chose to stay with Mitsubishi and hence my rally activities moved from LWR to Ralliart itself.
It was also Subaru that initiated my driving Cody’s car in China post-retirement and I’ve even done some STI drive days with both Cody and Dean Herridge. Subaru wondered how that would go over with diehard Subaru owners, but the reception was outstanding with most of them saying thanks for coming to a Subaru day.
After Neal organised the Corolla for my final ARC appearance in 2005, Toyota discussed driving another vehicle they wished to promote in a series of events, but by then I had decided I’d retired. However, I can’t say enough how much I appreciated that offer and how Toyota made my ’30 years in the ARC’ possible.
Of course there were also great opportunities with Holden after winning the ‘Round Australia Trial and we had numerous discussions about a third car in V8 racing as I had gone well in testing and subsequent events. However, after the ‘Round Australia win, Mitsubishi also wanted to end my freedom to drive for other brands in areas they didn’t run a factory team themselves, and I was offered a series of on-going contracts over the next 10 years before the Holden negotiations went very far.
Naturally I chose to stay in the sport I knew best and loved.
Back in a Toyota at Rally Australia, courtesy of Neal Bates. Photo: Stuart Bowes
Any regrets in regard to your rallying choices?
No! How could I look back on my career with anything but a big smile and thinking of all the great things that you thought you could only dream of happening?
Maybe I should have quit teaching earlier and taken the risk of surviving, as you can’t hold down another job while trying to be full-time. But definitely no regrets, they’re only indicators that certain habits and behaviours need to change.
Did you have any opportunities to pursue a serious international career?
Perhaps, but not realistically. I had a few discussions with many people, including Garry Connelly and Juha Kankkunen when we first won Group N at Rally Australia in 1989, suggesting ways to break into the WRC. But I was realistic I think in recognising my age and lack of experience of the events, even though our performances in Sweden and Finland started it all up again!
What would it have taken to get Ed Ordynski onto the world stage?
A commitment to it (by me), from high school onwards. Twenty is too old to start international experience, let alone being in your 30s in my case. A team can’t invest, say, five years, for you to get experience of the major WRC events if that takes you out of the window of peak performance. You need to arrive at the Monte Carlo Rally in your first works drive, having done it six times already in a little Fiat or something.
A happily retired Ed Ordynski.
Which was your favourite rally car and why?
Professionally, Lancer Evos 2 and 6, but personally, the Datsun 1600 because it was such a great car for a privateer even with limited modifications on a budget, like mine. It was a great car at the right time where you could win stages at the highest level, giving you the confidence to commit your life to the sport.
You had the pleasure of working with some gun co-drivers who were amongst the most successful in recent Australian rally history. Give us a one-word description that best describes:
Iain Stewart - Dedicated
Mark Stacey - Professional
Mark Nelson - Committed
Lyn Wilson - Focussed
Harry Mansson - Determined
In Part 2, read Ed Ordynski’s comments about the current state of Australian rallying, young stars and future champions of the sport, and classic rally cars. Coming soon!
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