By Mark A. Biggs.
The beautiful Mount Baw Baw Alpine Resort, situated on the Baw Baw Plateau, nestled high on the Great Dividing Range in Victoria was the idyllic setting for the penultimate round of the 2019 AASA Australian Tarmac Rally Championship, the Mt Baw Baw Sprint.
Held on 23 and 24 February, the Mt Baw Baw Sprint attracted one of the biggest entry lists in recent years, tackling 210 competitive kilometres of some of the most demanding but exciting roads in Victoria.
The competition over the weekend was intense. The final stage, the famous 32-kilometre Porcupine Creek run from Icy Creek to the Mt Baw Baw summit, with its 320 turns determined both the Outright and Classic category winners. The last 6.2 kilometres of the Porcupine Creek run, the rise to the Alpine Village, is one of the steepest inclines in Australia, taking competitors quickly to an elevation of 1,478m above sea level.
Tarmac Rallying in recent years has seen the dominance of the older Subaru’s and Mitsubishi Evo’s pass to the newer, high tech and more powerful cars, like the Porsche GT3, Shelby GT Mustang, Nissan GTR and the Lotus Exige with its six-cylinder supercharged engine, to name a few. But from the opening stages it was clear that the aging 2005 Mitsubishi Evo driven by former AASA Australian Tarmac Rally Champion, Danny Traverso and Jason Page and the modified 2002 HSV GTO driven by two-time Bathurst 12-hour winner Dean Lillie with champion rally driver Steve Glenney in the co-driver’s seat, were having none of it.
By the close of competition on Saturday night, Traverso and Page’s Evo held a narrow twenty-seven second lead over Jeff Morton and Daymon Nicoli in a 2017 Lotus Exige, with the GT3 Porsche RS of Tim Hendy and Julie Winton-Monet a further thirteen seconds behind in third. The flying 2002 HSV GTO of Lillie and Glenney, was the star of the day, with Lillie piloting the GTO to within one minute and twenty seconds of the lead, finishing the day in fourth. The 2015 Nissan GTR of Angus Kennard and Ian Wheeler, was a further one second behind the GTO in fifth. But so close was the competition at the top, that Craig Dean and Mary Hughes in the 2015 Shelby GT Mustang were only one second behind the GTR in sixth.
The competition in the Classic category was equally as close. The 1976 Ford Escort of Keith and Alex Morling finished Saturday with an 18 second lead over the 1985 BMW of Peter Gluskie and Samantha Winter, who were a further 38 seconds clear of Mark Clair and Ray Farrell in a 1974 Porsche 911 RS. Third, however had become a contest between the Porsche and the 1981 Holden Commodore of Michael and Stacey Reynolds. Things however would change on Sunday.
The Commodore was the first to be caught out by the twisty bitumen, an off on Special Stage Thirteen brought an end to their weekend, and then with two stages to go Mark Clair and Lee Harper hit a hole on the inside of a corner, damaging their suspension. Their rally was also over.
The battle for Classic honours, came down to the last Special Stage and a race between the Morling’s Escort and the BMW of GluskieWinter Motor Sport. However, on the final run up the Mountain, the Escort broke a lower control arm and retired. Victory at the Mt Baw Baw Sprint went to the 1985 BMW of Gluskie and Winter, with Robin and Peter Lowe in their 1971 Datsun 240Z finishing second.
On Sunday the outright competition became a three-way tussle between the Lotus, Porsche GT3 and the Mitsubishi Evo of Traverso and Page. The outcome was one of the closest finishes in recent times. As crews enjoyed a well-earned Sunday lunch stop, only zero point nine of a second separated the Lotus in third spot from the second placed Porsche GT3. The leaders, Danny Traverso and Jason Page, were a mere forty-five seconds further up the road.
Like the Classic competition, everything came down to the final few stages of the event, but, unlike the Classics, driver error and mechanical issues had no part to play in determining the outcome.
After what was a marathon battle, victory went to Danny Traverso and Jason Page in the Evo, beating second placed Tim Hendy and Julie Winton-Monet by a slender twenty-three seconds. Third placed Jeff Morton and Daymon Nicoli, in the Lotus were just a slim twenty-one seconds further behind the Porsche GT3.
The flying HSV GTO of Lillie and Glenny finished fourth outright, just pipping the 2015 Nissan of Kennard and Wheeler in fifth. The Shelby Mustang of Dean and Hughes was another victim of the infamous Porcupine Creek run, the final stage of the day. They clipped a fallen branch on the side of the road, destroying a tyre and rim, ending their rally chances.
‘The competition over the weekend has been fierce,’ said Danny Traverso. ‘We’ve pushed each other hard right to the final stage and you can’t ask for anything better than that. This was the first outing for both the Lotus and Porsche, so staying in front is only going to get tougher as they develop their cars.’
The final round of the 2019 AASA Australian Tarmac Rally Championship, the Lake Mountain Sprint, will be held at Marysville over the weekend of 23 and 24 March 2019.