AS he prepared to take part in the race of a lifetime, a shot at competing in the World Rally Championship round at Coffs Harbour – Rally Australia – we asked co-driver Andrew Saul to pen his rally experience. What follows are his notes from the event…
Monday – September 9 – 4 days to go. Up at 3am to drive to Blue Mountains. Loaded one dirty and unfinished Subaru STi on a trailer and headed for Coffs. Arrive at 5pm and drop competitor/vehicle ID on desk at Rally HQ.
Tuesday – September 10 – 3 days to go. Up at 6am, wash car, meet Pete (driver Peter Dunn) at 8am and head out into the forest for first day of recce (Friday/Saturday stages) – including a 50km Saturday stage with wide open roads and one very technical narrow road over a mountain. Back to camp to polish and sticker car (until midnight).
Wednesday – September 11 – 2 days to go. Big day. Quick recce for Sunday stages, then back for scrutineering. Adjust new seats, mounts and harnesses, fit bash plate and head down to technical inspection. A very brand new Subaru in front of us had a numerous amount of chief scrutineers and a French FIA Technical Officer inspecting the Air Craft quality welds on the roll cage, I looked at our eight year old Subaru and the not so good home welding and clenched my teeth. The Frenchman arrived, checked the grounded fuel lines, saw our Group N homologation papers and moved on to the next car, happy days. Oops boots didn’t pass, a few panicked phone calls, Gold coast supplier heading down in the morning, lend a pair from Team Honda for shakedown. Finally 20 minutes of laps of the special super stage in the centre of Coffs Harbour, wow that hairpin is very tight!
Thursday – September 12 – 1 day to go. Shakedown and finally we see the European team cars out in the forest, Very dusty though! A few hours hanging out in the pits, now suddenly it’s all real, we are on the special stage pitted against an Evo 10, off we go making great pace along the old bitumen Velodrome, through the red Bull gate, back onto the tar and down the straight to the hairpin turn, bugger clean bitumen and new cold tyres and theres no way the cars going to loosen out and throw around the bend, into reverse and back up, unbeknown to us, all the Grp N 4WDs have the same problem, across the finish line and out the gate, enter the TV crew – wow is this all real!
Friday – September 13 – Day 1 of Rally Australia – Out at 10am and onto the first stage, the notes are flowing, the cars doing everything we ask, the stages are a little tight, cresty, and blind junctions are keeping us on our toes! We finish stage 3 in a dust cloud, time card goes out and returns, we drive off and the cars stalls, a few minutes later we discover a burnt out wiring loom on the exhaust manifold, blown fuses and cooked relays. Unfortunately our day’s over and we return to Coffs on a car trailer and many hours rewiring the wiring loom. The car is early into park ferme, and so are we, into bed.
Saturday – September 14 – Day 2 of Rally Australia – Nambucca and Valla stages. Near 200km return trip, 50km first stage and we are back in the game, we work well together as a team the notes roll off my tongue, Pete pushes the STi hard along the open roads and we tackle the the technical stage – we are pushing hard, the DMS suspension is pushed past its limits over the many dips, crests and humps, the immaculate new STi from scrutineering appears on the side of the road, not so immaculate now, the driver holds up the “OK” card and we don’t look back. We make it through the end of the day, we made our six stages and transit, and despite sweating on fuel, we make it back to the service park unscathed.
Time for Specials Stage 5 & 6 – in the Stadium at Coffs – the stadium is packed, many of our friends and family are there, off we go with worn back tyres, we unsettle the car down the straight, sliding either way we reach the end, round the hairpin and though the velodrome, cheered through, we are back down the straight once again and we get the tail wagging into a perfect Scandinavian flick to finish on a high – STi 1 EvoX 0.
The next stage is not so good, we kiss the concrete barrier, just a slight scuff on the bumper but enough the flick not to work and we back up to get around, bummer lost eight seconds. End of night back to park ferme.
Sunday – September 15 – Day 3 of Rally Australia – 6am start, pack to leave get to Service early, wow we didn’t realise how small the car park had shrunk, the team behind us, looked buggered, the rental car parked in their service area with broken rally cars parts and panels on it spoke another story. We headed out early, our plan was to finish the day without breaking the car. We got through the first 3 stages perfectly, refuelled and headed back out, 2 stages to go, first corner our exhaust falls off, by the end of the stage, its rattling all over the road. We finish and transit to the remote transit stage, easy job, we remove it all together, mufflers are over rated, besides we had better top end without it!
Last stage. Shipman’s Power Stage. Off we go, I make my calls yelling a little over the noise of the un-baffled exhaust, then all of a sudden, without hardly noticing spectators all weekend, a human pyramid appears, it seems also there is a whipping boy atop of it, as we approach at high speed, with the seriousness of it all – I lose it and start laughing, at that point I lost my notes and it took many kilometres to recover, we get back on notes and are doing well, but it all comes undone again – as we approach the water splashdown.
Last time some water came into the car so we went a little slower, as we wade through, my feet feel wet again, we look to our right, big mistake, a bloke is swimming 2 metres from the car, and does his best Moby Dick impersonation, so Pete and I lost it again – the pace notes are out the window!
A few minutes later we recover and are back into it, and we finish the stage to see a three wheeled Citroen being dragged onto a tilt tray. We transit back to Coffs, the last of our time cards are completed, and we drive through the podium and our car sits in scrutineering until 7pm. At 1am we are parking the car out the front of my house in Newcastle, Peters’ worried about it, I tell him to go home to bed its safe.
Monday September 16 – Post race… 5.30am my alarm goes off, I’m confused, weird dream about a time card. Off to work no rest for the wicked. Ironically, work sends be to Buladehla, and I end up waiting around all day watching rally cars head south. I knock off work early, my reward is picking my little boy up from day care, he hasn’t seen me in 8 days, and what a cuddle it was!
Finally that night my phone rings – it’s a work friend that spectated, he says to me, you realise you just competed in your favourite chosen sport, at the highest international level. I saw his point, that’s right, so happy with our accomplishment.