After retiring from yesterday’s opening Leg with a broken cam shaft Brendan Reeves has been today’s pace setter, taking stage wins on four of the day’s six stages.
The day started under overcast skies, and while rain threatened a number of times, it never truly materialized, leaving drivers to contend with dry, rough and rocky conditions.
Opening the morning’s action the longest stage of the rally, and indeed the longest stage in the East Coast Bullbars Australian Rally Championship, the 48.92km Nambucca awaited drivers. This stage last year played havoc with tyre wear, and drivers were expecting just as stern a test this time around.
Reeves, keen to make up for lost time yesterday, blasted out of the blocks to take the stage win almost ten seconds faster than Pedder. “The cam we replaced last night is a lot bigger, so it delivers the power differently, so that took some getting used to, plus we started to get a high oil temp warning in the stage too,” said an exhausted Brendan at the stage finish.
“I don’t know what state the tyres are in though,” Reeves added. “It feels like there’s none left at all!”
Overall leader Pedder agreed, saying he’d probably pushed too early in the stage. “The tyres actually worked really well, but I probably overheated them in the middle section about 20km through and I thought ‘Ah oh’ because I still had 25km to go!”
Michael Boaden had other things on his mind when he arrived at the opening stages finish control than tyre wear, his VW Polo sporting a noticeable battle scar on the front bumper.
“I had a little adventure,” he admitted. “Towards the end I snotted a rock wall. It’s just superficial damage but it hit hard! The back just came around, the car started to spin, but I thought ‘I’ve got this!’ and kept the power down and when it gripped up we went straight into the wall.”
The far shorter second stage of the morning, the 7.92km Valla stage, gave drivers a reprieve after the Nambucca test, yet Tony Sullens still managed to keep himself interested. “I overshot a corner and took out some guys mailbox!” Tony grinned.
Between stages pace setter Reeves had radioed through to the rallyschool.com.au team to check on the high oil temperature warning’s the car had given him on the long stage only to be assured it was nothing to worry about.
Down the order Mick Patton was cursing a cautious start to the day. “I was probably struggling a little bit, I wasn’t getting good drive from the front of the car, so we’ll fiddle with some suspension changes in service now.”
After battling through a series of teething problems in his new Ford Fiesta yesterday, Steve Mackenzie found himself with a more serious problem after the opening stages. “Something’s wrong with the gearbox. It’s jumping out of gears and it’s really hard to pull the next gear so I’m not sure what we’re going to do from here,” he said with a troubled smile.
Returning to the forests after midday service drivers again prepared themselves for the challenge of the Nambucca stage, and with over sixty cars passing over the course already the road conditions were expected to be challenging.
“About 17km into the stage, a really rough, rutted section, we hit an imbedded rock and straight away a puncture!” exclaimed outright leader Scott Pedder. “We had to drive about a kilometre just to find somewhere to stop, and then lost about three minutes changing the tyre.”
Despite the time loss, Pedder retained the lead thanks to yesterday’s untimely retirement by Brendan Reeves and the buffer he’d built up over second placed Michael Boaden.
“We knew there was no point rushing, we had a big gap to the rest of the field,” explained Pedder’s co-driver Dale Moscatt. “Our sole focus today was to stay ahead of Michael (Boaden) and even with the puncture we’ve managed to do that.”
“Our biggest concern on the Nambucca stage was working out the right pace to conserve the tyres, in the end we hit a rock that destroyed a tyre!”
Pedder’s stumble allowed Reeves to claim his third stage win for the day, ahead of Boaden and a fuming Adrian Coppin.
“About 10km into the stage we had a problem with the left front corner, at first we couldn’t work out what was wrong, basically the car would pull under acceleration and braking, and wouldn’t turn round corners,” said Adrian.
“We realised the shock had gone, it’s blown a valve and dropped all it’s oil, just like in Queensland. It’s weird, brand new shocks this event, no idea why it happened!”
Despite Coppin’s concerns his Citroen teammate was faring far worse behind him, dropping over ten and a half minutes on the stage and falling from fourth outright to fifth.
“Only a half dozen corners into the long stage I got hooked up on the end of a bridge. There is a big sleeper along the edge and I just came in too fast and got the rear caught up on it. Luckily there were a couple of spectators who managed to help get us clear, and in turn they got very dirty, but by that stage we’d let four cars through,” Tony commented.
“We got going again behind Darren Blair, unfortunately we caught him and thought we could get passed but had to back off because it was getting dangerous in his dust. In the end I just had to follow in his dust to the finish.”
Further back Mick Patton and co-driver Bernie Webb were reverting to hand signals after their intercom failed. “It started to crackle and then it was gone for about a third of the stage,” Mick said. “In the end we were about 30 seconds faster over the stage than our first run this morning!”
After the dramas of the second pass over Nambucca, the second pass over the Valla stage proved entirely uneventful, although remarkably both Pedder and Reeves managed to set identical stage times over the stages 7.92km length.
A further two runs around the short Super Special Stage in Coffs Harbour awaited drivers before the safety of service, and as always on these short spectator-friendly stages the drivers would have expected to pass without incident.
That was until Sullens second run when he Citroen flew across the flying finish on three wheels. “I have no idea what just happened! We didn’t hit anything. Nothing at all!” he exclaimed, the car missing a rear wheel and its accompanying brake disc.
At the end of the second Leg at Rally Australia Pedder holds a strong X lead over the Volkswagen duo of Michael Boaden and Mick Patton heading into tomorrow’s final day.
“Another pretty good day,” said Scott. “The puncture wasn’t ideal but I always knew we’d managed to build a strong gap that would allow us a bit of room in case we had any sort of problems.”
“Brendan was fast today, and that forced me to push too, which makes it a lot more enjoyable that cruising round on your own, so hopefully we can carry that fight into tomorrow’s remaining stages.”
Boaden admits he’s more than happy to continue to run at his own pace and that a second place finish tomorrow afternoon would be a better than expected outcome after a challenging season.
“The car has performed faultlessly today, just like it should, and if we can continue on with our own pace tomorrow then it’ll be a great result for the team. Still a long way to go though, I’m not getting excited yet!” Michael promised.
Admitting that he’s sitting in ‘no man’s land’ in third, Mick Patton is still a happy man having overcome throttle and turbo issues after a non-start at the previous Round in South Australia.
“Really happy today, we made some suspension changes that have really improved the feeling with the car and despite being a bit too cautious this morning and then the intercom issues this afternoon it’s been a decent day.”