Scott Pedder may have piped him to an opening Heat victory, but it was Eli Evans who had the last laugh, claiming outright victory at the National Capital Rally and starting his 2013 season in the same fashion he finished 2012 – in dominant fashion.
With seven stages to run on the second day in Canberra, the opening Round of the East Coast Bullbars Australian Rally Championship, the morning started with disappointment as Elfyn Evans confirmed that the damage sustained to his Ford Fiesta yesterday morning would prevent him from restarting.
Two of the leading contenders were also in immediate trouble as the first stage commenced, a hard-charging Will Orders finding his Nissan Silvia’s engine blown by the mid point in the stage.
Brendan Reeves meanwhile, who had battled clutch, break and driveshaft problems during Heat One, found himself parked on the side of the round with a rather obvious problem.
“We came into a square right corner with a bit of a dip in the corner and I came in pretty hard,” explained Brendan. “All of a sudden there was a huge whack and the right rear wheel was clean off the car!”
“We tried to fix it but the bolts had broken off, the wheel and the entire brake assembly was just sitting beside the stage,” he added.
Eli Evans was quick out the blocks, blasting to victory on the first stage with Jack Monkhouse second and Scott Pedder third in what would be a seesawing battle between the two all day.
“I knew these stages today would suit our car a lot more,” said Jack. “They are a lot more fast and open and that’s when we can really use our car for what’s it’s best at.”
The leading drivers had settled into a comfortable rhythm by the mid-point in the day, Evans leading by 10 seconds to Pedder, who had crept ahead of Monkhouse, while Tom Wilde, Mark Pedder and Steve Mackenzie rounded out the top six.
It was to be a complete change of fortune for all concerned though over the afternoons remaining three stages.
Scott Pedder was determined to shut down the advantage to Eli, but 100 metres into the stage, over the first major bump in the road, his boot lid burst open and he and co-driver Dale Moscatt were forced to drive the remainder of the 16.5km stage with a cabin swirling with dust.
With Pedder slowing the advantage for second swung back to Monkhouse, who was enjoying the handling in his Nissan Silvia far more than yesterday. “We made some pretty radical changes to the suspension at service last night to try to get the car to move around a bit more. We definitely got a lot more traction today.”
By this stage Brendan Reeves had repaired the missing wheel on his Mazda2 and had rejoined the action, claiming the fastest time on the penultimate stage. “Never once this weekend has everything gone 100%, so to set a fastest time today and again yesterday when we know the car isn’t perfect, that’s encouraging,” he said.
A late scare for the rally leader Evans when he clipped a rock on the racing line 2 kilometres before the end of the second last stage. “It was the front right,” explained Eli’s co-driver Glen Weston. “Just gave it a little nudge and the tyre was straight away flat.”
Desperate to change the tyre at the end of the stage, and with little time until the start of the final stage, the Honda pairing worked up a sweat and made the start control with seconds to spare.
“My face was redder than my hair!” Eli joked at the finish. “We had no time and because of that we didn’t know what was going on behind us either, we didn’t know if we needed to push or if we could relax.”
They needn’t have worried, after Pedder’s boot drama the previous stage, he too would clip the exact same rock also suffering a puncture. The flat would mean Scott would settle for third, allowing Monkhouse to claim second and Evans the win with the gap almost a minute.
“The same rock as Eli,” an exasperated Pedder sighed. “And we lost second to Jack by only 2.2 seconds!”
Evans would claim outright honors for the weekend, Pedder second and Monkhouse climbing onto the podium in third.
“A typical Canberra weekend!” beamed Evans at the finish podium. “It’s always a tough rally on the machinery and we were really forced to pick the stages where we could push.”
“It all got a bit confusing there at the end with Scott’s boot and both of us getting flat tyres and I had no idea if I should push or not. In the end we proved all the improvements to the car we made over the summer work and I start the year with the points lead in the Championship and that’s very important.”
“I was surprised by Brendan’s (Reeves) pace, it’s a shame he had problems today and we couldn’t gauge how we compare but he’ll come out in Perth and really fire. And Scott (Pedder), for his first rally back, that was impressive. If it wasn’t for a little mistake he could have won the weekend, but second means he still has a bunch of points, so I need to watch out,” Eli added.
Despite his setbacks, and finishing third today, Scott Pedder arrived at the finish ecstatic with his weekend. “Second is a great result and our pace has been good all weekend. We have a lot of work to get the car ready for WA, and it’s a rally that has always been good to me, so I head to the next Round full of confidence.”
Third placed Monkhouse had a smile from ear-to-ear, as he explained: “To finish today is massive for me! It’s the first rally I’ve finished since WA last year!!”
Having struggled with massive brake overheating issues throughout Heat One and overnight change of brake fluid and dramatic cutting of the bodywork in the Honda Jazz allowed Mark Pedder to finish comfortably in fourth.
A late surge from Michael Boaden allowed the New South Welshman to move up to fifth, overtaking a slowing Steve Mackenzie who settled for sixth. “Today was alright,” said Boaden. “We were much more competitive and we know the areas of the car that we need to refine before the next round.”
It was to be bitter last stage disappointment for Tom Wilde, having sat soundly in fourth throughout the day he arrived too fast into a corner and beached his Renault Clio. “It was a square left corner, just too fast, ran wide and the car got stuck. We managed to dig it out but we lost over 15 minutes,” he said.
“Otherwise I’ve been so happy this weekend, I’ve totally exceeded my goals, and now I can head to my home rally with the confidence that I’m learning the car and have good pace to challenge,” Tom added.
In the National 4WD series John Mitchell made up for the disappointment of last stage retirement yesterday to win today, finishing 40 seconds clear of Michael Harding with Richie Dalton finishing third.
And bitter disappointment for hometown hero Neal Bates who didn’t manage to finish either Heat of the weekend, a broken gearbox ending his day yesterday before the wheel studs broke and a wheel parted way with his Celica today.
The victory went to Claude Murray who proved a powerhouse over the weekend, leading Geoff David home in Heat One by almost a minute and by over two minutes today.
The Classic Spirit award, sponsored by Trench Systems Australia, was awarded to Clay Badenoch for spectacularly thrilling the crowd at every opportunity over the weekend in his brightly yellow coloured Toyota Corolla.
The second Round of the East Coast Bullbars Australian Rally Championship takes crews to Western Australia’s Margaret River region and the coastal town of Busselton and the timber township of Nannup. The Quit Forest Rally starts on Friday 5th April and runs through to Sunday 7th April.