2018 Mitta Mountain Rally incorporating the Mitta Masters – An utter rout by the northern invaders!

This year, the third running of the Mitta Mountain Rally, 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 MTA NSW Rally Championship as well as the Focus on Furniture and Bedding Victorian Rally Championship. The incorporated Mitta Masters, for classic cars and crews was also a round of the new East Coast Classic Rally series. The visiting NSW crews dominated results occupying the first four outright places as well as taking out the Mitta Masters.

The format of the first two years was retained, including the amazing service park on the golf course, modern Rally Base with excellent local catering, long no repeat mountain stages, results final on the day, wrapped up with presentation that night in the fantastic Mitta Pub. The route was a mix of stages from the previous two years.

54 entries were received, with five entered in the Masters only and six in both Masters and the VRC. Thirteen welcome entries came from NSW including Haowen Chu who came via the ARC round in WA the previous weekend. The field was whittled down to 50 by the start. All NSW crews opted out of VRC points, while NSW regulations meant that Victorian crews could not opt out of NSWRC points.

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 foggy as is the tradition, and turned out generally cloudy with occasional bursts of sun. 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 was a novelty for the NSW crews. JJ Hatton felt sure he would score first on the road, but that honour went to Tom Clarke/Ryan Preston who appeared not so fazed by being “the opener”.

Crews headed south from Mitta along the Omeo highway to the opening stage – 14.5km Dunstans, where advice for competitors was: “This road has been restored from last year when it was narrow and overgrown with scrub and blackberries back to its original wide logging road condition. It should provide a beautiful early morning drive amongst towering Grey Gums, in and out of Blanket Leaf gullies gradually climbing 600m up into thick Alpine Ash forests past Hopeful Saddle towards Mt Wills. While it may be a relatively short warm up for the longer stages ahead, it will still be a very exacting introduction to this incredible terrain.”

The last few kilometres were made slippery by recent machine work, but that did not bother Clarke/Preston who were quickest by 16 seconds to Hatton/Long, with a further eight seconds to Hayes/Hayes. Dermody/Moynihan were only two seconds ahead of Travis/Travis in the 2wd battle. An average speed of 69.8 km/h for the fastest and 53.8 km/h for the slowest indicated how twisty a stage it was.

Lee/Lethlean set fastest time on this stage last year, but only lasted 4 km this time, succumbing to driveline failure. Another Victorian Evo of Liucci/Sheridan got to the end of the stage, but a broken gearbox ended their day. North/Sweeney also went out here with no clutch.
Stage 2 – 37.1 km, Razorback, had the following advice for competitors: “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.” Rain on Thursday night and Friday morning made for perfect road conditions everywhere except for the above red earth patches which had been graded three weeks beforehand, and so were particularly slippery.

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 three of the stages to a safe elevated viewing point.

Hatton/Long were fastest by only 3 seconds to Clarke/Preston, with a minute then to Wilkins/Gleeson and Hayes/Hayes. Clarke/Preston won Heat 1 by 13 seconds to Hatton/Long. Travis/Travis got two seconds back on Dermody/Moynihan to have them tied for Heat 1 2wd.
Stewart/Zinsstag, gearbox Martin/Turner, gearbox, White/Hahn rear ball joint, hence heaps toe out, and Williams/Ormesher, alternator, all went out on this stage while Pluck/Hellwig slipped off the road and could not get back on and Carney/Browne and Smith/Jarvie got back on and rejoined on a later stage.

After end of Heat 1 service back at Mitta, crews headed east through Dartmouth and up and over Mt Benambra along a very rocky access track to a communications tower. Advice for competitors for the following “Mt Benambra stage was: “The drive to get here may have been painful, despite the scenery. It was used competitively downhill two years ago and was understandably not popular. We think the drive here will be worth it. Some say that the first 10 km is the best piece of rally road in Victoria, with its rollercoaster of big sweeping dips and crests. The last half is not bad either winding down the side of the mountain.”

Clarke/Preston were quickest over the huge dips and crests by 12 seconds to Wilkins/Gleeson, then 14 seconds to Dermody/Moynihan in the Escort, only six seconds to Travis/Travis in a close battle for 2wd. Moore/Hutchins did well here in the front wheel drive Focus only 16 seconds back on this mainly downhill stage.

Stage 4 – 18.4 km Bullhead, followed shortly after. Advice for competitors was: “As can be quickly surmised on the track across the paddocks to the start of the stage, this road is rarely used, but has been nicely graded for us this year. It is a little bumpy as it relentlessy twists and turns its way through the forest up and over Bullhead Gap, then finishes with a fast run along a shire lane out of the forest 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.” No one went through the fence here like Wal and Shermo did last year and earn the two cases of Coronas penalty, payable to the landowner. The drone still caught some nice footage again as cars came out of the hills into the open valley across the flats.

Hatton/Long fought back here taking two seconds from Clarke/Preston. The pattern continued in 2wd with a six second gap from Dermody/Moynihan to Travis/Travis. Lennane/Ramia had electric problems delaying their departure from the start line by eight minutes.

A short transport followed back into Mitta for a 20 minute service before the last and longest 39.7 km stage of the event. Advice for competitors for Dorchap Range 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 good 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. A recent touch up with the grader should add to the pleasure. There are close up views of Mt Bogong on right between Tulips 11 and 12. Finishes down Trappers Gap Rd – now the traditional Mitta finish.”

Clarke/Preston wrapped it up being fastest by 42 seconds to Wilkins/Gleeson, while Dermody/Moynihan got amongst the leading trio of Evos, after JJ Patton finished on a flat tyre, 33 seconds back, the Irishmen decisively wrapping up 2wd and the Mitta Masters by over five minutes to Walker/Richards.

Wright/Brkic earlier problems with power to the centre diff were made worse by two flat tyres on the final stage. O’Reilly/Robinson slipped off backwards on Trappers Gap Rd, while Bohm/Staltari rolled within a kilometre of the final control while holding a commanding lead in the Excel class. Might have to keep the “L” plates on a little longer.

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. There was not much to celebrate for the Victorians with NSW popping all the champers.

Provisional results were posted at 6.00 pm and as no queries were received, they were final at 6.30 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 local Jake Lucas, including some impressive aerial shots from the drone. The traditional Mitta vases were presented by Josh from Border Oils and Batteries and event patron Jeff Beaumont who was interviewed by MC Steve Bowen on his career which included successfully co driving for the original Flying Finn Rauno Aaltonen and marathon master Andrew Cowan, not to forget Aussie legend Ross Dunkerton.

The clerk of course Colin Elliott acknowledged a huge team that included: Brian Royal – Road Secretary, Ian Douglas – rally base radio duties, Gary Gourlay – Event Secretary, David West – Public Relations, Tod Reed – Road Director, Ron Woodward – officials coordination, Steve Roman – equipment, Ross Runnalls – checker, Amanda Ramia – Entries Secretary role, Clint Thomas – Radio network, Gary Hodgskiss and Kate Officer – Scorers, stage commanders – Ray Wingrave, Steve Roman, Neville Bell, Richard Fung, Steve Dunbar, Ben Arnold, Phil Paterson, Matt Lynch, Tom Kaitler, and Steve Hollowood, Tristan Penhall/Scott Spedding 0 car, Cody Richards/Scott Mann 999 car, Mick and Julie Carey sweep, Ben Quick and Luke Webster recovery crews, all the time controls, road closures, SOS and spectator point officials, our contractors from Race Solutions for MIV and Dinta Officer from RallySafe for tracking.

The event continues to be a worthy part of the VRC, and now NSWRC providing variety and its own unique character which the organising clubs are committed to continuing next year and in following years.

Award winners
Mitta Mountain Rally Round 2 2018 VRC, NSWRC
First Outright Tom Clarke / Ryan Preston Mitsubishi Lancer Evo
Second Outright JJ Hatton / Nathan Long Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX
Third Outright Tim Wilkins / Jim Gleeson Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VII
First Two Wheel Drive Thomas Dermody / Eoin Moynihan Ford Escort RS
Second Two Wheel Drive Andrew Travis / David Travis Nissan Gazelle
Third Two Wheel Drive Grant Walker / Steph Richards Ford Escort RS1800
First Novice Scott Newman / Adam Davis Ford Fiesta
First Excel Brendan Hood / Richard Hood
First PN2 Brian Newton / Ryan Price Honda Civic
First Class PN 3 Jason Lennane / Amanda Ramia Proton Satria
First Class PN 4 Tony Moore / Troy Hutchins Ford Focus ST
First Class PN 5 Tom Clarke / Ryan Preston Mitsubishi Evo
First Class PN 6 Paul Eccles / Tom Ruessman Subaru
First Classic Rally Car Tom Dermody / Eion Moynihan Ford Escort RS
First Club Rally Car Andrew Travis / David Travis Nissan Gazelle

Mitta Masters also Round 2 of 2018 ECCRS
First Outright and JEFF BEAUMONT CUP
Thomas Dermody / Eoin Moynihan Ford Escort RS
First M50 Tom Dermody / Eion Moynihan Ford Escort RS
First M60 Grant Walker / Steph Richards Ford Escort RS1800
First M70 Colin McLean / Malcolm Holdem Toyota Corolla

Wal Lee paying the price for fence damage last year to local farmer Ted Tobin, being two cases of Coronas
The winners Clarke/Preston neatly surviving a slippery finish to Razorback
Second placegetters Hatton/Long crossing the finish line of the final stage
Third placegetters Wilkins/Gleeson overdoing the gutter hooking
Mitta Masters winners, and fourth outright, on the limit to the end, the Irishmen Dermody/Moynihan
First VRC and a little out of line here, Hayes/Hayes
First PN4 and ninth outright in a fine drive, Moore/Hutchins in the Ford Focus
Young Josh Bohm and the not so young Anthony Staltari slaying them in the Excels until an unfortunate rollover less than one km from the end
The lovely works replica Toyota Corolla of Terry and Donna Trewern in action in the Mitta Masters