2021 Mitta Mountain Rally won by 2WD
This year, the fifth running of the Mitta Mountain Rally incorporating the Mitta Masters, jointly organised by the North Eastern Car Club and Albury Wodonga and District Car Club, was for the first time also a round of the Victorian Club rally Series and the Victorian Sprint Rally Series as well as the Till Hino Victorian Rally Championship.
The traditional format was retained, including the amazing service park on the golf course, modern Rally Base with excellent local catering, blind mountain stages, and results final on the day, wrapped up with presentation that night in the fantastic Mitta Pub. The route included two brand new flowing stages, two modified stages and two used previously.
53 entries were received, 31 VRC only, five entered VRC and Masters, two Masters only, two Masters and VCRS, eight VCRs only, one VCRs and VSRS and one VSRS only. While not a round of the NSW Championship this year, the event attracted two entries from NSW, two from SA and one from Tasmania.
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 without the traditional Mitta valley fog, and remained mild and overcast, the rain holding off nicely until everyone was in the pub afterwards. 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 are cautioned that are not as they appear on approach or out of general character or might be an issue at high speed. 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 Reeves lead off, followed by Liucci then Seabrook.
Crews headed east from Mitta to the opening stage – 15.9km O’Connell Gap, where advice for competitors was: “First of all negotiate the left hander over the bridge just after stage start, then a long steady climb up to O’Connell Gap where it flattens slightly along the side of the ridge, up to Mt Benambra, then along it for a little way before dropping of it with a short descent to stage finish in the Tallangatta Valley. A good warm up stage with not much need for precise high speed braking judgement.” Seabrook/Robinson and the Tasmanians Reading/Young blasted out of the blocks to be equal fastest. Stratford/Manning were 18th fastest after an early spin going uphill. Brock/Brock retired early from the Masters with a massive oil leak.
Stage 2 – 28.7 km, Cravensville, had the following advice for competitors: “The open road through farmland that you see from the start line only lasts about 2 km before entering the forest with a twisty climb up onto the Gibb Range, where the road flattens out a little with a fast flowing run north towards Shelley. Recent verge slashing works along the road side have improved visibility markedly, but there are still plenty of big solid trees close to the road edge. The roads are generally earthen base, so if by any chance it is wet, then they could be tricky. This and the following stage e used to form a traditional Alpine night stage to get back to Bright from Shelley Plantation.” Rally leaders Seabrook/Robinson rolled 1.3 km into the stage on an open corner before entering the forest. The crew were quickly given the all clear by the MIV crew. Car not so good. Liucci/Sheridan were quickest by 20seconds to Reeves/Catford, then two seconds to the rapidly recovering Stratford/Manning. Joint rally leaders Reading/Young, down the field further went off in the dust of the car in front and damaged the front suspension too badly to continue. Sytema/Dewhurst, Stiles/Cribb and Hocking/Hocking retired with suspension issues on this stage, although the Falcon was able to rejoin on Heat 2. The only VCRS exits for the event were on this stage, veterans Cuttle/Murphy with gear selector problems in the Commodore and the Leoncini brothers with broken diff in the Corolla.
Stage 3 – 15.9 km Koetong followed shortly after stage 2 and a remote refuel. Advice for competitors was: “After checking and topping up with fuel if necessary, this stage continues along the Cravensville Rd to the west then north to Koetong. The surface is slippery granite when dry, grippy granite when moist and very slippery granite when wet. Where it passes through two plantations the surface is solid bluestone metal, with an exciting long straight through the open first plantation with no huge eucalypt trees in sight.” Clark/Clark overcame some early electrical gremlins to be quickest here by eight seconds to Stratford/Manning, then another 8 seconds to Reeves/Catford and Stewart/Zinsstag. Lennane son and father went out here with rear suspension damage.
A longish but scenic liaison followed down the Murray Valley, then the Mitta Valley
Stage 4 – 12.8 km Bullhead Gap, where advice was: “A slight variation on the traditional Bullhead stage, with same finish but new start along a shire lane off the Yabba Road, with few reference points to guide over the open crests. Winds up through the forest to a tricky turn left on crest at Bullhead Gap before traditional descent, negotiating two hairpin lefts, before exiting the forest back onto a shire lane with views of Mt Bogong and a fast run to the finish past spectators who have trudged some distance across the paddocks to get a good view of the action. Beware the final bend before the flying finish, with its narrow culvert.
In what has become a unique feature of this event, due to the lack of 2WD access into the middle of any stage, the only spectating options were at the finish of special stages. Spectators could walk in from the end of two of the stages to a safe elevated viewing point.
Clark/Clark were again quickest by three seconds to Reeves/Catford, whose spin over the Gap was caught on film.
Heat 1 went to Liucci/Sheridan, from Reeves/Catford and Clark/Clark.
After end of Heat 1 service back at Mitta, crews headed east again, where the 20.9 km Stage 5 Mt Benambra utilised the first 12 km of Stage 1, with advice for competitors: “The first half of the stage is a repeat of the first part of stage one with a nice gradual climb up the ridge. The second part of the stage, we think is the most exciting piece of forest road in Victoria – a wide, rapid, rollercoaster of dips, climbs, turns and drops off huge blind crests. In 2016 the stage continued up over Mt Benambra, and then dropped a massive 1200m in 13 km. It is a bit rugged, so this year that part is liaison, so you can enjoy the views of Dartmouth Township, which seems a long way below the narrow mountain road.”
Reeves/Catford handled the rollercoaster best by 11 seconds to Raymond/Williams having to strongarm their Subaru around the course with no power steering. Rally Leaders Liucci/Sheridan slipped off the road on the early part of the stage that repeated part of the first stage.
VCRS finished after Stage 5. Old hands Semmens/Parry performed consistently to take outright honours. Mackieson/Doughty back competing after a six year break started slow but then took out three stages to finish second and take out 4WD class. Lewis/Lewis won the final stage to take out third position and also round 1 of the VSRS at the end of Heat 1.
VRC and Masters crews continued south after a refuel in Mitta down the Omeo Highway for two more stages.
Stage 6 – 14.4 km Dunstans, where crews were informed: “This road has traditionally been used as the shortest warm up stage we could find. Originally planned to be rested this year, fire impacts have brought it back into the Itinerary. 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 has been recently graded and made even wider than previously. It climbs 600m through towering Grey Gums and Alpine ash trees on a constant grade with constant bends for the entire stage.”
Clark/Clark were quickest again by three seconds from Schey/Canning, then another three seconds to Stratford/Manning. Cagney/Moore, all the way from SA blew the engine of their Subaru WRX, and Lawrance/Davison blew their Datsun 1600 clutch on this relentless stage.
The final 37 km Razorback Stage 7 was the longest stage of the event and proved to be a dramatic finale. The stage was described as: “A fast cresty run through the snow gums along the Razorback Spur ridge, recently graded and widened for the first nine km, then a little rugged through the National Park, 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.”
Stratford/Manning appreciated that the stage was mainly downhill dropping nearly 1000m in altitude. They stormed through to be quickest by 25 seconds from Schey/Williams and move from fifth to first outright. Moore/Hutchens in another front wheel drive car were an extra further 16 seconds back. Reeves/Catford spun losing more than a minute and the lead in the event. Clark/Clark started stage 7 in second outright, but electrical gremlins reoccurred, limiting power and leading to desperate driving and the inevitable off into a bank and limping to the finish with damaged front end. Raymond/Williams lost brakes on all that downhill, slipping off the road losing five minutes. Stewart/Zinsstag ran out of fuel and had to coast to
the end of stage, and not make it to the finish. Snooks/Foreshew retired here with a broken gearbox mount in their BMW.
The Heat 2 outcome was the same as the overall event result, a breakthrough win the young Adrian Stratford and Kain Manning in their G2 Ford Fiesta front wheel drive, second to Peter Schey and Michelle Canning after a consistent run in their ex APRC Subaru WRX, and third to Bendan Reeves and Kate Catford after an exciting outing in the “hot” Datsun 1600.
The Masters was dominated by the Irish crew of Eoin Moynihan and Johnny Brophy in their Ford Escort, winning every stage with times that were consistently in the top six VRC. Second were Joel Wald and Chris Ellis in a Datsun Stanza, who also finished 10th outright in VRC and third were Stuart Lawless and Tom Ruessman in another Ford Escort.
The champagne presentation and spray was held 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 and as no queries were received, they were final at 7.30 pm enabling trophies for outright, masters and classes to be presented later in the evening at the Mitta Pub. Presentations were preceded by some footage of the day’s action on the big screen courtesy of Blendline including some impressive aerial shots from the drone. The traditional Mitta vases were presented by Gordon Douglas from Border Oils and Batteries and event patron Kate Officer who was interviewed by MC Alan Baker on her pioneering and extensive rally career which included winning long distance events such as The Wynns Safari, SA State bank Trial, and the Red Centre to Gold Coast Classic event, as well as the Australian Rally Championship, all with husband “Dinta”.
The event coordinator Ross Runnalls acknowledged a huge team that included: Brian Royal – Road Secretary and Radio, Gary Gourlay – Event Secretary, David West – Public Relations, Tod Reed – Road Director, Ray Wingrave/Chris Aggenbach – officials coordination, Steve Roman – equipment, Scott Mann – checker, Deb Richards – Entries Secretary role, Warren Brown – Radio network, Trevor Woods and family – scorers, Owen Polanski – CRO, stage commanders – Mark and Cody Richards, Robin Box, Steve Roman, Steve Davies, Matt Swan, Steve Dunbar, Phil Paterson, Max Carmody, Rob Wilson, Tom Kaitler, and Steve Hollowood, Jody Mills/Ryan Price 0 car, Simon and Ian Ellis, Kevin Battocchio 999 cars, Mick and Julie Carey sweep, Ben Quick and Luke Webster recovery crews, all the time controls, road closures, SOS and spectator point officials, MIV crews Ian enders, Jim Reeves and Bob Waldner and Dinta Officer from RallySafe for tracking.
The event continues to be a worthy part of the VRC, and now VCRS providing variety and its own unique character which the organising clubs are committed to continuing next year and in following years.
Mitta Mountain Rally
1st Adrian Stratford / Kain Manning Ford Fiesta
2nd Peter Schey / Michelle Canning Subaru Impreza WRX-C
3rd Brendan Reeves / Kate Catford Datsun 1600
1st Adrian Stratford / Kain Manning Ford Fiesta
2nd Brendan Reeves / Kate Catford Datsun 1600
3rd Tony Moore / Troy Hutchins Ford Focus ST
1st Novice Lance Rippon / Paul Loughnan Toyota Levin
1st Excel Vic Lochlan Reed / Will Murphy Hyundai Excel
1st CLB Brendan Reeves / Kate Catford Datsun 1600
1st PN 2 under 1600 Lochlan Reed / Will Murphy Hyundai Excel
1st PN 4 over 2000 Tony Moore / Troy Hutchins Ford Focus ST
1st PN 5 modern 4wd Peter Schey / Michelle Canning Subaru Impreza WRX-C
1st O/R Kate Officer Cup Eoin Moynihan / John Brophy Ford Escort Mk 2
1st M50 Glenn Bakker / Richard Hood Datsun 1600
1st M60 David Lawrance / Darren Davison Datsun 1600
1st M70 Graham Wallis / Brian Ward Peugeot 309 GTI 16
Mitta Mountain Rally
1st Brian Semmens / Dan Parry Nissan 200SX S1
2nd Brett Mackieson / Stephen Doughty Subaru Impreza
3rd Keith Lewis / Judd Lewis Datsun 1600
1st Brian Semmens / Dan Parry Nissan 200SX S1
2nd Keith Lewis / Judd Lewis Datsun 1600
1st Novice Shannon Seabrook / Justin Seabrook Subaru Impreza RS
1st Class C 1400 to 1600cc Keith Lewis / Judd Lewis Datsun 1600
1st class D 1600-2000cc Brian Semmens / Dan Parry Nissan 200SX S1
1st class E 4wd Brett Mackieson / Stephen Doughty Subaru Impreza
Mitta Mountain Rally
1st O/R Keith Lewis / Judd Lewis Datsun 1600