Our 2017 Outback Challenge (OBC) didn’t go quite as we would have liked it to and we certainly had a run of bad luck. A broken Pitman Arm in SS3, a massive hit after the end of SS9 which damaged the RH swivel housing and ripped off our LHF wheel, swivel housing and brake calliper, and finally a broken tie-rod end in Mad Max. Considering all the dramas an overall placing of 5th out of 26 starters and 4th place in Mad Max wasn’t too shabby after all.
Now that the full results have been posted up on the OBC web page we can appreciate just how well we did and what could have been if we hadn’t missed 5 stages! That being said Coops and Hummer in Car 3 were truly amazing and thoroughly deserved their convincing win. Congratulations must also go to Shane and Alison Barkly in Car 6 who only won one stage but their consistency overall got them 2nd place overall. Similarly with Johnnie and Steve in their immaculately presented Jeep who did a great job coming in in 3rd place.
Headquarters for the OBC is at Silverton, about 30kms out of Broken Hill so on Friday we got scrutineering and the drivers briefing out of the way. On Saturday the motorcade drove through Broken Hill before Show and Shine at the Plaza Shopping Centre car park.
SS1 was held at night under lights in a wide creek bed just out of Silverton. It was a 6km out and back blast along the creek acquiring 6 GPS Way Points along the way. We came in at 5th position which suited us pretty well as the placings for SS1 determined the running order for the Prologue the following day.
The Prologue is held in an old mine site on the outskirts of Silverton and gives the spectators a chance to see all the vehicles drive a couple of tough marked out courses – SS2 & SS3. Our SS2 went well and we drove it without winching in a pretty good time. SS3 on the other hand wasn’t so good for us and ended with a DNF (Did Not Finish). We hit a big wash out pretty hard with the driver’s side wheel and snapped the Pitman Arm. The DNF time was 15 minutes and try as we might to get the broken bit of Pitman Arm off the splines of the steering box in time, it didn’t happen.
Then it was out to Poolamacca Station for a whole heap of point to point GPS stages including SS5, the infamous 4 hour ARB Gorgeous. We were doing OK in all the stages for the day, (2nd in SS4, 4th in SS5, 2nd in SS6 and 1st in SS9). The night stage, SS9, was an 11Km blast down a wide sandy creek with a flying finish (drive through the finish line as fast as you can!). We were the second vehicle to do the stage but unbeknown to the Marshalls a track had been pushed across the creek no more than 30 metres past the finish line (the stage had been set up several months earlier when the track wasn’t there!). We hit it at more than 100kmph and the impact tore off the passenger side wheel, swivel housing and brake calliper and left the left the truck with the front diff buried in the sand some 15 metres further on from the initial impact – it was pretty ugly and we were both lucky to get out unscathed.
After the initial disappointment and thinking that this was the end of our 2017 OBC we dug out the diff and discovered that it might be repairable. To cut a long story short we spent the next 24 hours rebuilding the front end, most of it in the creek where it came to rest – character building it certainly was!
We re-joined the field at SS15 and completed all the other stages, taking out one second place, two thirds a couple of 4ths!
Mad max didn’t go quite as planned. We were in the 3rd pair to start the stage and after completing the initial bunted course both our GPSs’ threw a wobbly and sent us off in the wrong direction. By the time we had it sorted (shut them down and restarted) we were in the middle of the field making it really tough to get back with the leaders. We also broke a Tie Rod End and had to change that mid-stage, plus we missed a waypoint and had to go back and acquire it in one of the roughest sections. We then got hung up on a rock and had to winch! It all sounds doom and gloom but we actually did really well and finished within the DNF time and came in at 4th spot.
The OBC is a world class 4wdrive event – its unique format in an unforgiving landscape test the preparation and reliability of vehicles as well as competitors’ stamina, resolve and resilience. At times during the seven days we questioned why we were subjecting ourselves to this punishment but at the end of the final day the achievement of surviving one of the toughest 4wdrive events in the country makes it all worthwhile.
A huge thank you goes out to Robson Brothers 4WD for their support and sponsorship at this year’s event.