When we caught up with the #104 team, we were standing in the Outback between a dead ram and an abandoned house. It was another strange backdrop for a stage of the Australasian Safari Rally, where this area that seemed to be abandoned was quickly filled with clouds of dust and the buzzsaw sounds of race trucks.
Because of the fatality that occurred Wednesday -- a motorcyclist died in the rally -- only the autos did today’s first stage. Motos started up again after the Hamelin service stop. After we saw the autos speed through the Outback and headed on, we made a quick dash to the service stop in Hamelin to see what happens there. They have the service stops on every leg of the rally, but this was the first one we’d had the opportunity to visit.
Unlike the nightly diagnoses and repairs that occur at the bivouac, service stops are near a specific stretch of road, where all entrants must stop for 20 minutes [no more and no less] or they incur penalties. We watched as the #105 Subaru Forester had some fairly major suspension repairs done, as one of the team members counted off how much time was left before they risked getting time penalties. When things started to get close, she counted off every 30 seconds. “Two minutes, thirty seconds,” “Two minutes,” all the while the team was rushing around the Forester, performing repairs in a sea of controlled chaos, getting everything done right -- yet as quickly as possible. And sure enough, they had the repairs done with a minute to spare. They rolled up to the start line and were on their way. After that excitement was over, we waited to see Team Lerner Reina come in for its vehicle’s repairs.
However, the Jeep didn’t need much work. The team was running late because they’d had to refuel, but otherwise were still within the allotted time and were doing just fine. Both of the Wrangler’s side mirrors were toast, and the support crew adjusted the air pressure in the tires; this service stop was significantly less dramatic than the one we watched earlier that afternoon.
This is certainly better than the alternative, as we heard on the radio that two other competitors had rolled -- one in dramatic fashion, rolling 5.5 times -- other competitors DNFed, and the number of motos and autos that were still running on the second-to-last day of the rally continued to shrink.
There is an ongoing challenge with this rally: dealing with animals. Unfortunately, when there are rally drivers driving at high speeds in the middle of nowhere, when each driver comes across an animal, they have to figure out the right way to dart around the animal in question -- and sometimes they guess wrong. That was the case today, where emus darted in front of some of the autos on the course. Lerner and Reina saw a kangaroo alongside a fenceline that they were driving next to; the ’roo could’ve run in front of the Jeep, but fortunately it stayed put until #104 passed by.
As these are the closing stages of the rally, the route has switched from north to south as we head back toward (but not all the way to) Perth. There are some spots we saw today that we had seen before, yet the routes were slightly different to keep things challenging. We went back to White Bluff and saw the gnomes again (as we did on Day Three), and this time, ralliers were driving right to left in that stretch. Unlike on Day Three, though, today they finished with a tough run along the Murchison River that included slickrock and rock crawling -- it was truly Jeep country.
We finished our day separated from the rally course, as there wasn’t a road -- dirt or otherwise -- that was close enough for us to watch as the motos and autos finished their day and got back to Kalbarri. But soon after we got to the bivouac, Lerner and Reina arrived, near the back of the pack, but still competing. They may not be the fastest competitors in this rally, but they are still in it -- which is something to be proud of.
For more information on Australasian Safari and the latest results visit www.australasiansafari.com.au. Updates are available on Facebook.