My first memory of motor racing was attending a car rally in the Mount Crawford Forest as a teenager. My Dad and brother were going along with one of my brother’s school friends and there was just no way that I was going to miss out. This was back in the seventies and I was in early high school. I knew nothing about cars and even less about rally driving. Dad took his cine camera and I borrowed his stills camera and a roll of black and white film.
I still remember the thrill of watching the cars race towards me as they approached a bend, becoming airborne as they hit a rise at speed. There was no thought given to how dangerous the sport was for the drivers, or even for the spectators, as there were no designated spectator locations and no barriers of any kind between the cars and the spectators. But that was part of the thrill. Part of feeling involved in the event.
Since those days I’ve gone to other motor racing events held in Adelaide from the Grand Prix to the V8 Supercars and even to a demolition derby. And over this last weekend I added the Classic Adelaide car rally to that list. The stills camera has been replaced with a digital one and the black and white replaced with colour but, I hoped that those would be the only significant changes that I would find.
Unlike the rallies of my youth, this event is held on public roads stretching from the heart of Adelaide out into the hills and beyond, taking in some of the most scenic regions close to Adelaide. A different route is taken on each of the four days providing ample opportunity for people to view the contestants and their vehicles. And what magnificent vehicles they are, from a 1932 Alvis Speed 20 to 2009 Nissan GTRs and everything in between. Over 100 cars were entered in the Competition category alone for the 2009 event. This event has its history linked to the Adelaide Grand Prix when a series of older cars drove from the city, up through the notorious Devil’s Elbow to the Eagle of the Hill as a showcase for older race cars. The event proved popular and provided a free spectacle to add to the party atmosphere of the Grand Prix. These days the Classic Adelaide car rally, in its 13th year, rolls into town with less fanfare than the Grand Prix and the V8s but it is just as free as the Classic Car run to the Eagle and, far more accessible to those living outside of the city confines.
It was great to see the older cars in a race event and, even better to be able to get up close to these cars when the competitors stopped at the morning tea break and lunch locations. The drivers and their navigators mingled with the crowd and, were more than happy to answer questions or pose for a photo. I might not know the names as well as those of Peter Brock, Dick Johnson and Colin Bond but I didn’t mind. There were plenty of cars that I recognised from my youth and some more modern cars that I still dream of being able to afford one day.
Work got in the way of seeing the events of Day 1 so I had to be patient for Day 2 to arrive. I made my way up the road, only a five minute drive from my house, to the closest viewing spot, and found a small gathering already there waiting for the cars to appear, one at a time as they raced against the clock. This portion of the road in the Adelaide Hills was one of the many race sections along each route that was closed to public vehicles. I arrived to find yellow tape blocking the intersection barely 20 feet (7 metres for you younger folk) from the now race track. A further 10 feet back another tape, green and white this time, marked the spot behind which the spectators were to stand. Not quite the free reign of the seventies but not the concrete barriers and mesh fencing of the V8s either.
So armed with my camera I staked out my spot and eagerly awaited the first car. I could hear the first car before I could see it. The engine revving as it negotiated the bends making its way up the hill. Moments later it flashed by in a flurry of sound and colour, as it dashed around the next bend and out of sight, leaving me waiting eagerly for the next car. The cars moved too quickly to catch the names of those driving, but not so quick that I didn’t have time to admire the sheer beauty of the designs. Some travelled a little slower, driving one of the older entrants, allowing more time for their admirers to take it all in.
Well over an hour slipped by, without me noticing as I watched the cars race past, before deciding it was time to sample some of what else was on offer that day. So off I headed to catch the cars and their crews during the morning tea break at Yankalilla, a small country town an hour’s drive south of Adelaide, in the heart of the Fleurieu Peninsula.
By the time I arrived at Yankalilla oval the rain had started and many of the cars were already parked while others still drifted in. Yet others were heading out on the next leg, stopping briefly at the checkpoint to collect their paperwork. Only a small group of spectators were present despite the rain; some gathered around the cars on the oval whilst others gathered under the shelter of the verandah. Amongst their number I could see several of the crew in their bright-coloured racing gear. While back out on the oval, amongst the cars and ignoring the rain, were a group of children. Let out early for lunch from the local school, they were eagerly wandering amongst the many cars, many of which were manufactured before they were born.
I ventured out onto the oval for a closer look at the cars, admiring the character of the older models and the sleek lines of the newer ones. I looked under bonnets at engines and in at spartan interiors, stripped down to the bare essentials to reduce weight and gain speed. And just maybe first place in their class. Roll bars and fire extinguishers were common, air-conditioning was not. Getting wetter by the minute, I decided it was time to head home and dry off in readiness for the next big event, the Gouger Street Party.
The skies may have been threatening but that certainly didn’t deter people from joining the party atmosphere. Hundreds turned out. Some no doubt stopping by on the way home from work, others after picking up a few essentials from the Adelaide Central Market. This section of Gouger Street is home to both the market and many popular eateries. Cafes and restaurants are clustered along both sides offering a wide variety of choices from Asian to Argentinian. Many have taken advantage of the street party and have extra tables extending onto the footpath, all providing the perfect view of the Classic cars parked a couple of feet away.
A whistle signalled the arrival of another car, running the gauntlet of the mingling public, as it made it’s way through the crowd. Some cars sported the wounds gathered during the day and all wore the tape on the left headlight, in honour of the crew tragically killed during the first day’s racing. A grim reminder of the dangers inherent in any form of motor racing, let alone one where there are no barriers between the cars and the many roadside trees.
Marquees covered the laneway that marked Adelaide’s Chinatown, next door to the market, providing tables for diners. The purr from the engines of the arriving cars mixing with the beat of the music and the clink of glassware adding to the general party atmosphere.
Drivers and their crew mixed with the public, posing for photographs willingly, happy to talk about their cars and the day’s racing.
Also among the cars were the ubiquitous Lycra clad girls promoting the sponsors wares and attracting their own fair share of the attention from the crowd.
Day 3 arrived and the cars took a different route through the hills in what was essentially a repeat of Day 2. This time the cars gathered in the cafe district of Norwood Parade, in the eastern suburbs of Adelaide, for another street party providing further opportunity for the public to view the cars close-up and to meet the men and women who drive them.
All too quickly the final day of racing had arrived. This time the rally took the cars through Macclesfield and Paris Creek before stopping for lunch at McLarens on the Lake in the McLaren Vale wine district, home of some fine South Australian wines and, only 40 minutes south of Adelaide.
McLarens on the Lake proved to be another popular viewing spot as the sun broke through the clouds that had persisted for the last two days. After lunch the cars headed out for the next race section which would see then race from the Chapel Hill Winery to Bakers Gully Road.
Two more race sections followed as the cars made their way back towards Adelaide and the finish line that awaited them on King William Road at Hyde Park. The crowd watched as one by one the cars drove up onto the podium to cross the finish line, pausing at the top to accept their medal and pose for the cameras. The bottles of champagne and the leafy wreaths sat waiting to one side for the winners in each class to take their turn on the podium. And one by one they did. With grins on their faces they happily accepted the wreaths. Shaking the bottles of bubbly they liberally sprayed each other, and the spectators, with the contents. Even the media received the same attention, ducking back to avoid the sticky fluid from hitting their cameras. No-one seemed to mind, most chose to keep their spot near the podium. Close to the action. Close to the race. Just like the Forest Rally of my youth – only better.
For more details regarding the Classic Adelaide car rally visit their website at www.classicadelaide.com.au
All rights reserved by Susan Adey
I went along to check out the 2009 Classic Adelaide car rally held in Adelaide from 19-22 November and found myself recalling my first car rally and comparing it to the race of today’s time.
Featured in Australian Travel Photography & Writing group 13 Dec 2009
Featured in Destination Australia group Dec 2010