The second last round of the Australian Off-road Racing Championship was held at a place called Millicent.The town is located in South Australia just across the Victorian border, on the way to Adelaide.
The track comprises of some full on, flat out, dirt road sections, loamy soil, forest tracks and mental runs between pine trees. The track starts in a Quarry, the home of Teagle Excavations, runs down beside a railway line and then out via the local roads to the forestry run pine plantations.
Known for being a horsepower track, Millicent is famous for killing engines, as a result of 3-4 kilometre sections requiring full throttle.
This was our first run here in the Patrol. I had navigated for a guy called Russell Cairns a few years ago in a sprint car powered Nissan Patrol ute.
I had a fair idea of what to expect, the focus, discipline and the approach to the event.
The total distance of the race is 400km, run over 3 sections, 2 laps a 30 min break, 2 laps a 30 min break and 2 laps to finish.
The softness of the track and the high power output of the Pro Buggies combines to create a huge change in conditions in a very short period of time.
For a long time now we have been benchmarking ourselves on the National Teams speed and really wondering if we had the outright speed and the reliability to compete at the National level. This weekend we would put that theory to the test and solve the conundrum once and for all.
We lined up for Prologue, which was to be run around the Quarry section and a small section along the railway. The green light came on, a good launch and a few quick changes to get to the first corner. Overall the effort was okay, but not fantastic. I got onto a greasy section of the track, at the turnaround section of the track and compression locked up the Patrol, stalling the engine and sliding off the track, costing us valuable time.
A minor error at the top section of the track and lost more time, our efforts overall netting us 4th fastest out of 7 cars in our Class. We found out later one of the cars had a navigational issue and saved themselves a huge swag of time, but unfortunately earned a ROF (Rear of Field) for their trouble. It was an honest mistake and a hefty price to pay.
I don’t usually get nervous, but race day I felt uneasy in myself. I think it was a mix of intimidation of the track, the unknown nature of the day, competition at National level, etc, etc. As a result I suggested to Karen my Navvy, we can ease our way into the day and see what comes.
Lining up against a Class 2 car, we launched into the race, feeling our way through the inner field and getting a sense for the traction available.
Out onto the long run to the plantations up to 200 kmh and halfway along we cross the main road, effectively jumping it at 200 kmh. We headed into the plantations and managed our speed and tried to save the car a bit.
Learning the tricks to the ruts and reading the tracks we were making pretty good time. ¾ of the way through the lap we came across Australia No. 2 in our Class. We put a move on him and set about catching Australia No.1.
As you come out of the forest onto the run back to the Pits, there are a series of corners that flow brilliantly, like a serpent you can weave your way through between 180-200 kmh.
The end of lap one was coming up and we could see Australia No. 1 in our Class. We had made 1:30 on him in the first 65 km lap. Passing a Category 5 car we set about reeling in Car 701.
Into the forest and the chase was on, catching and passing them about 15 km into the second lap. I said to Karen, we just need to manage our environment now, save the car and make sure we get to the end. Fine plans indeed.
We pulled a couple of hundred meters on them over the next couple of kilometres. All was looking good.
We headed into a 90 degree right hand corner, the corner had become significantly rutted. This caused the axle to articulate and the tyre was ripped by one of the tubes on the By-Pass Shock. The hole was 9 inches long.
6 minutes to fix it and we were back in the hunt only to have the clutch and gearbox starting to fail. We couldn’t change gears and there was a huge vibration in the engine. I think what happened was the tangs on the pressure plate twisted when the tyre ripped causing the above issues.
So we set about trying to minimise the time impact and get back to the pits. Still with 45km to go we struggled with the Patrol to get it back to the pits. We had to stop again for a burning rubber smell. Fanbelts…damn, we’ll make them last till we got back to the pits.
Arriving back at the Pits we also found the steering dampener had broken a mounting bracket. That would explain the steering ripping itself out of my hands at every chance.
At this stage I could not seem much point in killing the Patrol, so I decided it best to withdraw from the event.
In summary, I felt we did an awesome job, great speed, super strong engine and now know we can match Australia No. 1 pace.
As a learning experience, the event was a super valuable lesson in terms of pace and the reliability of the Patrol.
We’ve done a huge amount of development this year. We’ve created more horsepower, more torque and maintained RPM. The extra stresses have pushed the envelope of reliability. The good thing is we know exactly what needs to be fixed for next year to make it survive.
So back to the shed for some more development.