SCOTT Pedder has taken a start-to-finish win in the East Coast Bullbars Australian Rally Championship round at Coates Hire Rally Australia, beating home VW driver Mick Patton and Citroen’s Adrian Coppin.
While the final margin was sizable it didn’t prove an easy day for Pedder who overcame a broken engine mount, an electrical concern and blown power steering to claim the win.
The opening stage of the day, the 30.20km run over Shipmans proved strong for Pedder, beating rival Brendan Reeves by 19.2 seconds as the Mazda driver struggled to wring the best out of his engine.
“The car felt really flat going up the hill, I couldn’t get any wheel spin at all,” exclaimed Reeves who suggested that the camshaft the team replaced on Friday was the source of the lack of power.
As Pedder and Reeves fought it out at the front Tony Sullens was pleased to set a top three times on the opening stage. “Quicker than Adrian (Coppin) in that one, three days in and it’s finally come good!”
All of the leading ECB ARC crews were complaining about grip levels in the stage, particularly on the early sections.
“A few slippery spots got me a bit unsettled,” said third placed Mick Patton. “On top of that Bernie (Webb, co-driver) is not feeling the greatest either, but we’ll push on and push through it.”
What Patton hadn’t realised was that he’d suddenly jumped from third to second after the demise of his Volkswagen cohort Michael Boaden. “We are gut wrenched!” said a downcast Boaden. “Won’t really know what went wrong until we get home and get it apart.”
“The first thing I realised was that we were down on power and when I looked down I saw the oil pressure was not so good,” he continued. “I can’t see any evidence of what the problem is, no holes or anything, but there is no oil in the sump so something major has let go.”
On the second stage of the day Reeves found he had turned the tables on Renault driver Pedder, his stage time advantage 5.7 seconds in his favour. “Just a few dramas in that one,” Pedder said flatly.
The issue would turn out to be a failing engine mount, which was allowing the engine to move around putting pressure on the belts to the power steering and alternator.
With his concern evident Pedder dropped over forty seconds on the third stage, Wedding Bells, as he nursed the Renault back to the safety of service. “We had a few electrical issues before the first stage, then the power steering blew coming down the freeway,” explained Scott.
By the time Pedder arrived at the pre-service regroup the car was running on minimal voltage, then with the cooling fans still running the car cut out completely, forcing Pedder and co-driver Dale Moscatt to man handle the car back into service.
Pedder’s concerns had benefited Steve Mackenzie, the Ford Fiesta driver finishing the third stage directly behind Reeves. “It’s good to finally be able to string together a good stage!” he beamed.
“I knew from the start of the event that the times would be there if we could string it all together, and we finally got there. I know I’ve still got time in myself and the more kilometres, the more time in the car we learn the things that aren’t quite right, so we’ll only get quicker,” he added.
So with just three stages remaining in the event Pedder held a more than comfortable 9 minute 16.6 second advantage over Patton and Coppin.
For Coppin he admitted his approach during the morning had been unnecessarily cautious. “The time lost this morning was down to a couple of water crossings. I just took them way too carefully after the problems we had in South Australia.”
While for Patton a service park chat with his Repco Rally Team manager Barry Game had his head prepared for the remaining stages. “I just got dragged aside by Barry who had a few stern words with me. This is a mental game as much as a physical and mechanical game. 45km to go, I just need to keep doing what I’m doing.”
On the repeat run over Shipmans Pedder, his Renault Clio back on song, powered ahead once again, setting a stage time 9.6 seconds faster than Reeves.
The organisers stepped in though to cancel the next stage, the 10.86km Bucca 2, leaving just the final stage for crews to fight it out, and fight it out they did just to reach the finish line.
“I was having a go, probably shouldn’t have been pushing so hard, and just on a tiny corner got caught out a little bit and had a soft roll into the bush,” said Tony Sullens who arrived at the finish with a battered Citroen DS3.
“I can’t remember the last time I’ve been kicked and got back up that many times,” Tony added.
But the concern was with the leader Pedder who dropped 1 minute and 37.9 seconds on the stage as he limped through, his Renault losing power, but he managed to make it through and arrived back at the service park absolutely relieved with his result.
“I should be happy but its more just stress relief,” Pedder exclaimed. “What an unbelievable day. Probably the hardest, stressful day I’ve ever had in rallying. It’s been car dramas, good times, bad times and weird dramas at the worst possible places.”
Mick Patton, who was forced to withdraw from the last Round in South Australia, was equally relieved to make the finish to stand in second place on the podium alongside Pedder.
“At last! It’s been a long few weeks since SA, the team has done such a fantastic job, the car worked so well and that’s the main thing. That’s what I was trying to achieve this weekend, so just to get the car to the finish in one piece is unreal, with no major issues.”
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” Mick continued. “Once I realise it’ll be good as gold!”
Third placed Adrian Coppin couldn’t believe he’d made the podium after experiencing a roller coaster weekend of highs and lows. “ What a weekend! I didn’t ever think I’d be standing on the podium spraying champagne. It’s a testament to the strength of the car and the boys, I threw everything out there at them and they kept us out there.”
While Brendan Reeves, Pedder’s main rival in the Championship point’s race was overall happy with his day where he once again took maximum points. “The last two days have been very important, I got maximum points and that was my sole aim. Scott was lucky to get through today, so we’ll take the fight now to Rally Victoria.”
In the East Coast Bullbars 4WD National category Ritchie Dalton not only maintained his lead but further extended it out to almost 2 minutes and 20 seconds by the end of the event, leading home Marcus Walkem and Gerald Schofield to form a Mitsubishi 1-2-3.
“I’m blown away,” Dalton beamed at the finish. “I came to this event to do some big skids and to put on a show for the spectators, so to come away with the win is incredible.”
Further back in the Classics Neal Bates continued his start to finish domination, praising the resilience of his Toyota Celica RA40 and his Canberra based team who built it.
“It’s been another perfect weekend for us, the car has been faultless, and I have the team to thank for all their hard work,” said Neal on the podium. “It’s great to be able to drive this car on the same roads as the World Rally Cars, and even better to come away with the win.”
Bates finished ahead of the hard charging Matt Ruggles in the Triumph TR7 and Irish flyer Michael O’Hagon in his Ford Escort.
While the Side-by-Side Rally Challenge Cody Crocker and co-driver Greg Foletta upheld honours for Polaris by sweeping to victory, just over one and a half minutes ahead of the Can-Am of Michael Guest with Phil Swindale’s Polaris third.
“In the end it looks like an easy win but the reality is this is a very tough rally and Guesty kept us pushing all the way. There were a lot of jumps out there and we loved them all, we even had some officials come up and tell us how impressed they were with how our car handles the jumps,” said Cody.
The East Coast Bullbars Australian Rally Championship now enters an eight-week break before the sixth and final Round, Rally Victoria, from the 14th to 15th November.