(14/9/2013) DESPITE the day only featuring four forest stages it proved to be one of the most demanding in recent history, with almost every driver suffering from extreme tyre wear, yet at the end of it Eli Evans continues to lead by almost half a minute over Brendan Reeves.
“Today really has been the ultimate test of car and driver,” said Evans. “It’s been tough, very, very tough. The (Honda) Jazz always seems a bit tough on tyres, while Brendan’s Mazda looks after them a little more, so we’ve had to watch him all day today.”
Two passes dominated the day over the 49.90 kilometre Nambucca stage, with Evans one of many drivers to struggle on the first pass, arriving at the finish control with both his front tyres down to the canvas.
“Both tyres were destroyed, and I’d tried to take care of them as best I could. It’s pretty simple, fifty kilometre stages and front-wheel drive just don’t go together,” Eli simply said.
Brendan Reeves has had a day to remember, claiming both stage wins on the 49.90km Nambucca stage. While he remains half a minute behind Eli he’s aware tomorrow could still throw up a last minute surprise.
“Today has been really good actually!” he said. “I had a really clean run on the long one, I know others had no tyres left, but mine weren’t too bad.”
“We made some small changes to the setup at midday service and it helped. The car was way too loose in the rear, then the changes made it far more consistent.”
“I think these endurance events really suit us, and the car, so if we could get a few more of these in the ARC that’d be great,” laughed Brendan.
Earlier in the year Scott Pedder suffered a unique broken exhaust in his Renault Clio at the Quit Forest Rally. Today both Pedder and team mate, and currently third placed, Tom Wilde suffered a repeat of the break. “I’m driving a Renault tractor, so that should suit me being a farmer!”
The Renault Sport team believe the heat the exhaust produces on the long stages creates a failure in the join between the down pipe and the manifold. While Pedder’s exhaust was fixed at midday service it would again break this afternoon, before Wilde’s also broke three kilometres from the end of the final stage.
Fourth placed Mark Pedder had a unique penalty applied today when co-driver Claire Ryan mistakenly checked into a control one minute early, earning a one minute time penalty. Despite the oversight Mark was pleased with his day.
“It’s been a big day and I’ve had a lot of fun. We’ve been making some small changes to the car and it’s responding well. I’m happy with fourth, I don’t want to wish anything bad to the guys in front, I’ll just be happy to beat Scott (Pedder).”
With his brother in front, and with a day featuring shredded tyres and broken exhausts, Scott Pedder wasn’t in a particularly positive mood at service. “I’ve had the worst day of rallying I think ever!” he exclaimed.
The broken exhaust had a massive impact on the performance of Pedder’s Clio. “Basically the thing won’t go if you’re under 7,500rpm, so you have to thrash the thing which means dumping the clutch every gear change to get the wheels spinning. It’s shocking, a terrible day I’ll happily forget!”
Nick Box rounds out the top six in his Nissan 370Z, the high horsepower, rear-wheel drive coupe chewing through tyres throughout the day. “It’s like driving a V8 Supercar, on slick tyres, on gravel,” he explained.
At the foot of the top ten Justin Dowel was left shaking his head in frustration as he struggled to get his mind into gear. “I spent most of the day trying to drive like I was in a four-wheel drive, which is the complete opposite of what I should have been doing!”
“I was braking too early, I couldn’t get the attitude on the car. But I got focused on the job at hand this afternoon and it seemed to feel a lot better,” Dowel added.
Outside the top ten Steve Mackenzie had radiator concerns with his Peugeot 207, Glen Raymond dropped over thirty minutes with overheating and Brett Middleton spent the afternoon without either third or fourth in his gearbox.
John Mitchell in his Mitsubishi Lancer has opened a commanding lead in the National 4WD Series, up by two minutes over Richie Dalton’s Subaru Impreza with local Peter Robert’s Mitsubishi Lancer third.
Neal Bates didn’t have it all his own way in the Classics today, second behind Michael Conway’s Ford Escort on the 49.90km Nambucca stage, although the Toyota Celica driver continues to lead the field by over a minute and a half.
While Michael Guest has taken the lead in the Side-by-Side Challenge over arch rival Cody Crocker, the pair split by 11.2 seconds at the end of the day, with Iain Hughes third.