A dry and dusty 2023 Mitta Mountain Rally won by Tim Wilkins and Jim Gleeson from NSW
This year, the seventh running of the Mitta Mountain Rally, jointly organised by the North Eastern Car Club and Albury Wodonga and District Car Club, was for the third time also a round of the Hoosier NSW Rally Championship as well as the Till Hino Victorian Rally Championship and the LDV Geelong Victorian Club Rally Series. The incorporated Mitta Masters, for classic cars and crews was also a round of the East Coast Classic Rally Series. The visiting NSW crews dominated results, but not as comprehensively as last time occupying first and third outright places as well as taking out the Mitta Masters.
The basics of previous evets were retained, including the amazing service park on the golf course, modern Rally Base with excellent local catering, long no repeat mountain stages, wrapped up with presentation that night in the fantastic Mitta Pub. The route was a mix of new and old stages from previous years.
95 entries were received, and 78 made it to the start line. Comprised of 35 VRC, 19 NSWRC, 22 VCRS and 2 Masters only plus 11 cross entered Masters/ECCRS. This time it was not possible to enter both VRC and NSWRC or both VCRS and VRC/Masters.
The Mitta Masters for classic cars and crews has not grown as the organisers would have hoped. The more traditional narrow winding mountain roads, long stages and no pace noting should appeal to competitors from former times. The Mitta Masters continued its unique awards based on driver age, with awards for the most successful drivers in their 50’s, 60’s and over 70’s, as it is felt that particularly on longer events with longer stages, crew ability, attitude and stamina are more important than the vehicle. Co-drivers were not to miss out as they were to receive “Carers Awards” that reflect how well they have looked after their elderly chauffeurs.
Saturday dawned fine without the traditional Mitta valley fog, with a little cloud that cleared later. Competitors were informed at the briefing that “There are long intervals in the roadbook with no instructions but lots of corners. It is matter of judgement what bends deserve a caution. The guide has been: corners that are not as they appear on approach or out of general character or might be an issue at high speed, are cautioned. We have probably erred on the side of too little than too many cautions, as it is frustrating for more experienced crews to slow for something that was not a problem. If there are no cautions it does not mean that the roads can be maximum attacked. These roads warrant respect and a little reserve, particularly by less experienced crews. They were built by loggers not engineers. They are unpredictable, constantly changing in direction, width, radius, shade, camber, and surface. The consequences are severe with big drop offs. They are demanding roads, but ultimately very rewarding.”
The ballot of the first three seeded positions saw Stratford lead off followed by Pohlner and Walters. The VCRS tyres ballot was won by Trucano/Thaw.
Crews headed north from Mitta along the Omeo highway to the opening stage – 22.4 km Bullhead Long, where advice for competitors was: “A longer warm up stage than normal that combines the first part of the 2021 Bullhead Gap stage and the latter part of the 2022 Bullhead stage. It starts on a shire lane, with few reference points to guide over the open crests, then into the forest up to a turn left at Bullhead Gap before a long twisty and bony climb over the Bullhead Range, and then a wider, smoother but still relentlessly twisty run down into the Watchingorra Creek valley.”
Wilkins/Gleeson set the pace for the event with a 16.04 to Walters/Crowley on 16.27 and Clark/Clark 16.29. In VCRS King/McClure-Wallace also lead from the front with 17.35 to Murdoch/Murdoch 17.44 with Semmens/Parry close behind on 17.46. Garrard/Shepherd failed to get to SS1 with fuel pump problems. Reed/Reed retired on this stage after clouting a bank hard, Stewart/Zinsstag had an incurable misfire and Lahiff/Kirby went out with mechanical issues.
Stage 2 – 15.44 km, Callaghans North, had the following advice for competitors: “A shire road stage run in reverse direction to previous years in 2017 and 2019, where crews from the starting line could contemplate in front of them some kilometres of open, sweeping, cresty road. This did prove too much for some, and on both occasions the MIVs had to enter the stage shortly after the start line. In reverse, the start is uphill and between the trees, so crews should be in tune before they get to the testing open, slippery and cresty part.” Unfortunately, the MIV was required again when the first car on the road, Adrian Stratford and Kain Manning left the road 4.7 km from stage end at speed, and rolled many times. Ambulance, CFA and SES were called in to take the roof off the car and extract the crew in their seats. They were airlifted to Melbourne, and are making slow recovery from back injuries. Reeves/Catford retired early in the stage with differential failure.
As there was no convenient way around stage 2 to get to stage 3, both stages were cancelled, so crews convoyed back to Mitta service to restart again on Heat 2.
For Heat 2, crews headed south down the Omeo Highway to Dunstans Gap for Stage 4 – 30.85 km Mt Wills. Advice for competitors for the following stage was: “This stage was last used in our first year, 2016 as an exacting opening stage. It is a very scenic drive following Mt Wills Creek amongst towering grey gums, in and out of Sassafras gullies up into thick alpine ash forests towards the creek’s source at Mt Wills. Besides being relentlessly twisty, the road is constantly changing in width, surface, undulations, camber and corner radius, with many of the large trees close to the road on exits to corners, all demanding tidy driving.”
Wilkins/Gleeson were an outstanding 1.03 quicker than Sweeney/Cronin, with a further 19 seconds to Millard/Hughes, enjoying the twisty roads and getting amongst the 4WDs in their Datsun 1600. In VCRS, Murdoch/Murdoch turned the tables knocking off King/McClure-Wallace by 3 seconds.
Many crews succumbed on this stage: Walters/Crowley limped to the end with drivetrain problems, Mahony/Hilton also with driveline issues, Allen/Young fuel, Mordue/Mordue distributor, Ellis/Ellis clutch, Jones/Jones mechanical, Gibson/Jelbart unknown and Yendle/McKinnon suspension.
Stage 5 – 14.26 km Dunstans Down, followed shortly after. Advice for competitors was: “This road has traditionally been used uphill as the shortest warm up stage we could find. Originally built parallel to the highway as a private road it enabled grossly overweight log trucks get from the bush to the Lightning Creek sawmill without using the Omeo Highway, except to cross it! It descends ever so gradually for 600m through towering Gey Gums and Alpine Ash trees on a constant grade with relentless, constant bends for the entire stage. it has not been graded for a few years, so the grass, dogwood and blackberries are encroaching and making the road narrower.”
Wilkins/Gleeson were again fastest on 12.26, this time to Clark/Clark by 5 seconds, then 19 seconds to Dermody/Moynihan. In VCRS, King/McClure – Wallace and the Murdoch boys tied on 13.20.
Moore/Hutchens retired here with mechanical failure, Hunt/Hunt overheating, and Ross/Hague numerous problems.
VCRS returned to Mitta here, while many of the remaining competitors needed a remote refuel before tackling the final 36.91 km Razorback stage. Advice for competitors was: “The tradition continues of saving the longest stage until the final stage. Commences with a fast, narrow, cresty run through the snow gums, and then opens up onto a wider road, graded since we last used it, through the alpine ash forests along the Razorback Spur ridge before a long twisty descent down to Snowy Creek. Beware the sharp bends around the ends of spurs and red earth patches if wet on the descent. There are glimpses to be had of Mt Bogong and Mt Wills to the West and the Dartmouth Dam to the East. Spectators will be gathered on the final corner of the event.”
Sullens/Newell running second on the road, ran out of brakes, colliding with a bank and tipped onto their side, blocking the road. The following six cars were held up and received derived times before the stage could recommence. Other retirements here were Galley/Buccini fuel, Lee/Lethlean out of tyres and Cagney/Moore unknown.
Wilkins/Gleeson continued their winning way to the finish on 28.05, 26 seconds ahead of the Clarks, then 9 seconds to the Redheads.
The champagne presentation and spray was held for outright and VCRS podium places at parc ferme on the edge of the oval below rally base with a backdrop of Mt Welcome.
Provisional results were posted at 7.00 pm as the basis for award of trophies for outright, masters and classes later, outside that evening in the Mitta Pub, preceded by some footage of the day’s action on the big screen courtesy of Mason Peart. The traditional Mitta vases were presented by Gordon Douglas from Border Oils and Batteries and event patron Warwick Smith who was interviewed by MC Alan Baker on his early driving career in diminuitive Renaults and his later successful rally career as ARC champion co-driver and multiple VRC champion driver.
The event coordinator Ross Runnalls acknowledged a huge team that included: Brian Royal- Road Secretary, Tod Reed – Road Director, Gary Gourlay – Event Secretary, Steve Roman – equipment, Chris Aggenbach – officials coordinator, Ged Blum – Entries Secretary, Col Elliott – Clerk of Course, Ian Douglas – Radio, Steve Davies – checker, John Downs – CRO, Warren Brown – Radio network, Trevor Woods and family – scorers,
Stage commanders – Steve Roman /Ray Wingrave, Tom Kaitler /Steuart Snooks, Greg Keen/ David Schmidt, Paul Kent/Mark Richards, Corey Gillet/ Owen Polanski and Chris Aggenbach/Brenton Kaitler, Service Park and Parc Ferme manager Scott Spedding
Course cars, 0 Braeden Kendrick, 000 David West, 999 Kev Battocchio, Sweep Mick Carey, and Recovery 1 and 2 Ben Quick, Luke Webster and MIV drivers Ian Enders, Jim Reeves, Matt Webster, Bob Waldner, Tegan Elliott.
Mitta Mountain Rally
1st Tim Wilkins / Jim Gleeson, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9
2nd Josh Redhead / Matt Redhead, Mitsubishi Lancer GSR
3rdChris Stilling / Jon Thomson, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 7
1st Thomas Dermody / Eoin Moynihan, Ford Escort RS1800
2nd Jacob Umback / Peter Stringfellow, Toyota Corolla
3rd Brad Luff / Jamie Luff, Holden Commodore VL
1st 1600-2000cc Thomas Dermody / Eoin Moynihan, Ford Escort RS1800
1st >2000cc Brad Luff / Jamie Luff, Holden Commodore VL
1st Tim Clark / Leonie Clark, Subaru Impreza
2nd Kev Millard / Patty Hughes, Datsun 1600
3rdNick Seymour / Gordon Grant, Ford Fiesta
1st Kev Millard / Patty Hughes, Datsun 1600
2nd Nick Seymour / Gordon Grant, Ford Fiesta
3rd James Leoncini / Mark Leoncini, Toyota Corolla AE71
1st Novice Jarrod Keyte / James Brown, Hyundai Excel
1st Excel Vic Brendan Hood / Richard Hood, Hyundai Excel
1st CLB James Leoncini / Mark Leoncini, Toyota Corolla AE71
1st PN 2 under 1600 Brendan Hood / Richard Hood, Hyundai Excel
1st PN 3 1600-2000 Andrew Murdoch Snr / Kelvin North, Ford Fiesta
1st PN 4 over 2000 Kev Millard / Patty Hughes, Datsun 1600
1st PN 5 modern 4wd Tim Clark / Leonie Clark, Subaru Impreza
1st PN 6 older 4wd Brad Till / Mitch Garrad, Subaru Impreza
1st O/R, Warwick Smith Cup Thomas Dermody / Eoin Moynihan, Ford Escort RS1800
1st M50Thomas Dermody / Eoin Moynihan, Ford Escort RS1800
1st M60 David Lawrance / Darren Davison, Datsun 1600
1st M70 Terry Gunter / Stephen Newell, Ford Escort Mk 2
East Coast Classic Rally Series
1st 2WDThomas Dermody / Eoin Moynihan, Ford Escort RS1800
1st 4WD Josh Redhead / Matt Redhead, Mitsubishi Lancer GSR
Mitta Mountain Rally
1stDaryl King / Darcy McClure-Wallace, Toyota Corolla
2ndAndrew Murdoch Jnr / Ross Murdoch, Nissan Skyline
3rdKeith Lewis / Jack Lewis, Datsun 1600
1stDaryl King / Darcy McClure-Wallace, Toyota Corolla
2nd Andrew Murdoch Jnr / Ross Murdoch, Nissan Skyline
1st Novice Andrew Myers / Chris Storer, Datsun 1600
1st Class A <1400cc Michael Trucano / Heli Thaw, Datsun Sunny
1st Class B 1400 to 1600cc Brody Zysvelt / Judd Lewis, Hyundai Excel
1st Class C 1600-2000cc Daryl King / Darcy McClure-Wallace, Toyota Corolla
1st Class D >2000cc Andrew Murdoch Jnr / Ross Murdoch, Nissan Skyline
1st class E 4WDShannon Seabrook / Rhiannon Philpot-Hale
1st Junior Cup Jack Lewis
Wilkins/Gleeson powering to victory in the picturesque Mitta valley
Tim and Leonie Clark, setting up for the final corner of the final stage and a fine 2nd outright and first VRC
The Redhead brothers sliding early in stage 4 to 3rd outright and 2nd NSWRC
Millard/Hughes dodging the thistles on their way to 2nd VRC and first 2WD
Dermody/Moynihan taking out the Warwick Smith Cup for first Masters, as well as 5th NSWRC
Stilling/Thomson turning in on stage 4 to 3rd NSWRC
The flying Leoncinis in their Toyota Corona, no, Corolla, revelling in the dust to 4th VRC
The Hoods on their way to an impressive first Excel and 5th VRC
King/McClure-Wallace cleaning up with first VCRS
The Murdochs powering to 2nd VCRS, showing that bigger cars do ok at Mitta
Lewis and Lewis backing it in to 3rd VCRS