2016 Mitta Mountain Rally incorporating the Mitta Masters – a new challenge

The Mitta Mountain Rally ran on 14 May 2016 as the second round of the Victorian Rally Championship. This is an account of the event, for the records.

When the Melbourne Uni Car Club decided that organising one round of the VRC was enough and decided not to continue with the East Gippsland Stages, Ross Runnalls offered an event to fill the gap in the calendar, and the North Eastern Car Club and the Albury Wodonga and Districts Car Club were happy to back the event. Recent trail bike trips had revealed that the road network in the Mitta area was in great condition and offered some fresh testing long stages that just had to be shared with other rallyists, so the Mitta Mountain Rally was born. It was going to be difficult to attract a full field given the distance of Mitta from Melbourne, and as it was felt that the long stages should appeal to older rallyists, the Mitta Masters was created as a parallel event catering for just classic cars, over thirty years old as per the revised CAMS Classic Rally Car regulations. Clerk of Course Ross also believes that particularly on longer events with longer stages, crew ability, attitude and stamina are more important than the vehicle, hence Mitta Masters awards were based on driver age, with awards for the most successful drivers in their 50’s, 60’s and over 70’s. 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.

The event concept was simple, three loops out of Mitta Mitta, the first loop south containing a 31km and 37km stage with necessary optional refuel in between, the second loop east, a single 38km stage, then a final loop west with a 39km stage, all to be driven blind with no repeats. Two of the four stages have never been used before for rallying. One contained 26km of new road, while the other was last used in its entirety in the 1975 Alpine Rally.

Mitta Mitta is a quiet little hamlet situated at the junction of Snowy Creek and the fresh waters of the Mitta Mitta River, but boasts a spectacular new Multi Purpose Centre at the Mitta Recreation Reserve which provided an excellent dining and relaxation hub for the Service Park. Servicing took place on the adjacent fairway of the first hole of the local golf course, which stood up remarkably well, given the 130mm rain received in the week prior to the event.

46 entries were received, with seven entered in the Masters only and six in both Masters and the VRC. For the Masters, Shane Alker/Karien Heimsohm had come all the way from SA and Ron King/Mitch Smith from Queensland. Bill and son Chris Aggenbach may have only come from Wangaratta, but Bill had not had his owned-from-new Datsun 1600 out of the shed in a rally for so long that no one could remember when they last saw it in anger. The field was whittled down to 39 by the start.

Saturday dawned fine but overcast. 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 organisers have cautioned corners that are not as they appear on approach or out of general character or might be an issue at high speed. If there are no cautions it does not mean that the roads can be maximum attacked. These roads warrant respect and a little reserve. 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. There is no history of corners claiming victims, no black spots, so do not create that history.”

Warren Lee/David Lethlean drew the short straw and headed off first out along the Omeo highway to the first stage – 30km Mt Wills Creek. Advice for competitors was: “A beautiful early morning 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. This is more than a warm up, it will be a very exacting introduction to this incredible terrain.” The damp conditions made the stage even more demanding, and not as enjoyable as it would have been in the dry. Spectators were treated to a great bird’s eye view of a flick into a wide turn hard left downhill only 200m into the stage. The lack of 2WD access into the middle of any stage meant that the only spectating options were at the start or finish of special stages. Spectators did not have to walk along the competitive route as used to be common in NZ rounds of the WRC before the 2000’s. Much effort had gone into roughly clearing walking tracks beside but well above the road. This allowed safe elevated access at the start of Stage 1 and at the end of all stages.

Windus/Brick were over a minute faster than Dilkes-Frayne/Dewhurst then Lee/Lethlean and Schey/Middleton who burst out of the blocks in the Mitta Masters and 2WD being 27 secs faster than Conway/Cole, then Stewart/Ferme. Murdoch/Mackenzie and Wallis/Ward stopped on stage, both due to overheating. Coleman/Watson slipped off and stayed off after staying on the brakes too long, while Moore/Rowland slipped off, but got going again, losing 30 minutes. Alexander/Wasson tipped their Excel over on the road only a couple of km before end of stage.

The slow going on Stage 1 made for a tight short liaison and optional refuel at Mt Wills before tackling Stage 2 – 37km Razorback Spur. Advice for competitors was: “A fast cresty run through the snow gums 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.”

Windus was revelling in the conditions, 1:41 faster than young Viv, with Walker/Lowe making up for a slow start heading the Masters and 2WD, slotting in just behind the top two, and in front of Lee. Erwin/Parkinson had come all the way from Queensland, but the overheating on Stage 1 terminated their event on Stage 2 after the exhilarating early fast stuff. Redcliffe/Eeles slipped off the road but a stump saved them from a deeper excursion, while Jarvie/O’Halloran succumbed in the slippery final 10km descent, slipping off too far to self extract.

While Windus clearly won Heat 1 outright, Schey scraped in by 3 secs over Walker for 2WD and Eccles/Pilepich were first Excel by 4 mins from North/Branton. Testa/Robinson pulled out here with wheel bearing issues and Clinnick/Hoang with front suspension damage.

After service, crews headed out east for the 38km Mt Benambra stage. Advice for competitors was: “A stage of three distinct thirds, the first one of the most enjoyable gradual climbs, the second the most exciting piece of road in Victoria – a rapid rollercoaster of dips, climbs, turns and drops off huge blind crests, then the third, probably the most terrifying road in Victoria, dropping a massive 1200m in 13 km. We apologise that this third is much more rugged than the rest of the event, but it is not bad enough to warrant liaison only. Be careful to keep some brakes for the final km, where Dartmouth township seems a long way below. A truly memorable stage.” The previous week’s rain rendered the final 13 km even more rugged, but no one retired on this stage, except for car 0 with broken gearbox early in the stage. Till/Garrad finished the stage with exhaust too broken to do the final stage. North/Lawson gave it away at this juncture also, with a sick navigator. Maybe it was the altitude. Windus bent the steering in beating Regester/Humm by 1:39, but as he said, he could have chosen to drive slower, but didn’t. Schey was 9 secs to the better of Conway in Masters and 2WD.

After a 30 minute service, crews headed north of town for the final 39km Dorchap Range stage. Advice for competitors was: “The longest of the long has been saved until last. It starts with 26 km of new road along the Dorchap Range. It is not a forest highway for B Double logging tracks, but enough to quickly float dozers into a fire, so it cuts out the steeper parts of the old Dorchap Range Tk, but retains the narrow bits along the ridge between the trees. Close up views of Mt Bogong on right between Tulips 11 and 12. Finishes down Trappers Gap Rd – an old Alpine traditional.” Ray Wingrave’s two boys had done a sterling job some weeks beforehand heaving loose rocks from the apexes and outside exits off the road along the 26 km of recently constructed road to allow drivers more room to throw cars around and reduce the number of rocks thrown by leading cars from inside corners into the middle of the road for later cars.

Windus continued on his winning way, but only 16 secs faster than Lee. Ivan Regester’s effort on the previous stage was too much as he stopped early on the stage with broken driveshaft, as did North/Branton, a little further down the road. Hubbert/Hubbert slipped off late in the stage. Carl Stewart struggled to get to the end of the stage, while the Officers did not quite get there, running out of tyres worn out rubbing on a broken strut. Dinta and Kate had relinquished their normal VRC Competitor Relations Officer role for the first time in 12 years, in order to compete in the Mitta Masters, because as they said “We are not going to miss out on a Runnalls event!” Fortunately Owen Polanski agreed to step into the CRO shoes to be the competitor’s friend and advisor for the event. He had a quiet event.

The champagne presentation and spray was held at parc ferme on the edge of the oval under two towering old cedar trees with Mt Welcome in the background finally unshrouded in mist. Windus/Brick, Lee/Lethlean and Dilkes-Frayne/Dewhurst got to wet themselves as they finished Heat 2 and the event in that order. Schey edged out Walker by 18 seconds in Heat 2 and by 21 secs for the George Fury Cup for winning the Mitta Masters.
Provisional results were issued at 5.30 pm and as no protests were received, they were final at 6.30 pm enabling trophies to be presented later in the evening at the Mitta Pub.

The scene was well set for the formal presentations by a lively compilation summary of the day’s events on film, put together by James Elliott and his crew. The clerk of course thanked Steve Roman for organising equipment, Ray Wingrave for work on spectator point access and setup, as well as being safety officer, David West for Albury club input coordination, track work and 000 duties, Scott Spedding for checker and 00 duties, Ron Woodward for officials coordination, Steph Richards for Entries Secretary role, Warren Brown for coming in as radio network manager, Ian Douglas for Rally base radio duties, Stage Commanders – Ron Harper, Steve Roman, Cody Richards, Peter Whitten, Brian Royal, Gordon Douglas, Tom Kaitler and Steve Hollowood, course car, sweep, recovery crews, all the time controls, road closures, SOS and spectator point officials, and lastly the people of Mitta district who made the event so welcome. He promised that there are another one or two days stages out there for future years.

MC Alan Baker interviewed sponsor Gordon Douglas of Border Oils and Batteries, who promised to be back again bigger and better, as well as the event patron George Fury about his rallying and racing career. For those too young to remember, George won the ARC in 1977 and 1980, the Southern Cross International Rally in 1978 and 1979, before moving to circuit racing where he held the Touring Car lap record at Mt Panorama for five years. George then presented trophies to the major winners including the inaugural George Fury Cup for the outright winner of the Mitta Masters.
The event proved to be a worthy addition to the VRC, and successfully implemented a range of innovations, including:

– Long no repeat stages
– Results final on the day enabling trophy presentation that night
– SOS intermediate timing in case of interruptions to any of the only four stages
– Walk in spectator points at stage starts and ends
– New roadbook format
– New MIV provider – Racesolutions Motorsport
– External Pienet radio network manager – Warren Brown
– Masters sub event
– Event patron – George Fury
– Partnership of two clubs to run an event
– Bus provided from Dartmouth to Mitta pub function
– Great small town service park location and general vib

Award winners
Mitta Mountain Rally round 2 2016 VRC
First Outright Darren Windus / Joe Brick Subaru WRX
Second Outright Warren Lee / David Lethlean Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX
Third Outright Viv Dilkes-Frayne /Tracey Dewhurst Subaru WRX
First Two Wheel Drive Neil Schey / Scott Middleton Ford Escort RS2000
Second Two Wheel Drive Grant Walker / Bianca Lowe Ford Escort RS 1800
Third Two Wheel Drive Michael Conway / Jenny Cole Ford Escort Mk 2
First Novice Blaise McNamara / Russell Woollard Hyundai Excel
First Excel Stephen Eccles / Simon Pilepich Hyundai Excel
First PN2 Stephen Eccles / Simon Pilepich Hyundai Excel
First Class PN 3 Jason Lennane / Amanda Ramia Proton Satria
First Class PN 4 Brian Semmens / Dan Parry Nissan 200SX RV S12
First Class PN 5 Darren Windus / Joe Brick Subaru WRX
First Class PN 6 Michael Evans/Richard Gill Subaru Impreza

Mitta Masters
First Outright and GEORGE FURY CUP Neil Schey / Scott Middleton Ford Escort RS2000
First D50 Richard Carter / Callum Oakey Datsun Stanza
First D60 Grant Walker/ Bianca Lowe Ford Escort RS 1800