January, 2015Hello all, another long overdue update on what has been happening. In November I co-drove for Gerry Bashford in his delightful Ford Escort Mexico in the Targa High Country rally. This time in the Regularity category we were outgunned by the modern cars, the serious slopes of Mount Buller and other uphill stages being too much of an ask for the 1.8 litre Escort against modern Audis, a supercharged Toyota Celica 380, HSVs and other assorted big power moderns. Unless the Targa organisers see fit to introduce a Classic class for Regularity they will find that classics will not bother to enter. When times for most of the stages are not achievable, the Regularity aspect becomes meaningless. At Christmas son Daniel and I did the long drive across the Nullarbor to Perth to visit relatives for Christmas. We towed a pop up camper trailer with my Holden Adventra, and had a great trip. Coming home we detoured to Wave Rock and Esperance on the south coast to vary the scenery. We also stopped off at Lake Dumbleyung near Lake Grace, where Donald Campbell set a world new water speed record back in 1964. Our only problem on the trip was an exploded sun roof glass, which blew out from the air shock of a large wheat truck travelling the other way.
2015 looks to be as busy as ever. On the agenda are the salt lake races at Lake Gairdner out from Port Augusta in March with my motoring journo mate and ex Holden engineer Graham Smith, then in May another trip to New Zealand to spectate on the Otago Rally, always a worthwhile exercise and a good fun trip. In between these I will be co-driving for Gerry Bashford again in the Escort Mexico in Targa Tasmania, an event that I love. If you haven’t done a Targa Tasmania in your motor sport career, your life is not complete. In August Graham Wallis of the Historic Rally Association is organizing a re-run of the 1986 State Bank Discovery Trial, a week long event run in remote areas of South Australia. The original event was won by Dinta and Kate Officer, who will no doubt be back to try to repeat their win. I have purchased another car(!) specially for this event. It is a replica of the Renault R16TS in which Jim McAuliffe and I won the 1969 Victorian Rally Championship, complete with yellow paintwork and original Waltons Rally team/Amco clothing/Dunlop signage. Steve Magner has done a great job with the rebuild and I am looking forward to becoming re-acquainted with the rock and roll handling of a TS. Gerry Bashford will be navigating, so it will be a hoot.
In February I will be the recipient of another great honour by CAMS, the organization responsible for motor sport in Australia. I have been granted Life Membership of CAMS, an award I am proud to accept, even though I consider that there have been many other harder workers for motor sport than me over the years. The presentation will be at the annual CAMS dinner in Sydney on February 21. Cheers, that’s all for now. I hope to update the web site more regularly in future.
May, 2015In early March I suffered a big personal blow when my lovely dog Stella had to be put to sleep. We had been together for 14 years, and after Heather died she was my best friend. Very sad. She had been on many rallies and outback trips over the years, so for a Schnauzer I guess she had a pretty full life..
Another big honour - CAMS Life MembershipIn February 20125 I received another great honour from CAMS; Life Membership. I received the award from CAMS President Andrew Papadopolous at the annual CAMS awards night in Sydney. Others to be awarded CAMS life membership on the night were Fred Gibson and John Paterson. Previous Life memberships have been awarded to Larry Perkins, Dick Johnson, Colin Bond and Ross Dunkerton, so I am very honoured to be placed in such esteemed company.
On the night I was on the same table as Jack Brabham’s famous partner Ron Tauranac. Ron is getting on, but is very entertaining to talk to and mentally sharp – much as Harry Firth was in his later years. When Ron went on to the stage to receive his award, the Jack Brabham Trophy, he said “I am pretty good at building racing cars, I have built 1500 of them, but I am not much good at talking”, and then left the stage. The audience loved it. 2015 is another busy year. In mid March I travelled with two good mates, Graham Smith and Ray Borrett to Lake Gairdner in South Australia to see the Dry Lake Racer’s Association annual meeting. Lake Gairdner is a salt lake about 200 kms from Port Augusta and every year (lake surface permitting) people bring all manner of vehicles, on both two and four wheels, to attempt to set speed records. Conditions are fairly primitive, but it was interesting to see the variety of cars and motorcycles competing. They have a 15 km stretch of straight flat salt lake to play in, and some vehicles are reaching speeds of 300 Miles per hour.
Looking ahead this year, I am going to New Zealand again in May to spectate on the Otago Rally, always a good fun trip. Then in August I am competing in the HRA’s re-run of the State Bank Discovery Trial, an event run in the 1980s in the outback of South Australia. I have purchased a car specially for the rally, a Renault R16 TS. The car was built by enthusiast Steve Magner as a replica of the car in which Jim McAuliffe and I won the 1969 Victorian Rally Championship, complete with Walton’s Rally Team and Amco signage. I am going with Gerry Bashford, so it should be a lot of fun.
September, 2015You may notice that this update contains other updates that unfortunately did not make the web site at the time, but have now been included. Since the May update I travelled to New Zealand with a good group to spectate at the Otago Rally, always good fun. The most impressive aspect was NZ star Hayden Paddon winning the rally outright in a 2WD Ford Escort, beating Ken Block and all of the NZ Championship hot shots in their 4WD turbo cars. A great young talent, let’s hope he makes it in the Big Time. This was followed by Graham Wallis’s rerun of the 1980s State Bank Discovery Trial, a marathon event that covered most of South Australia. The rerun wasn’t quite as challenging, but was a great week of motor sport and socialising, with some stunning roads to drive on. Ross and Lisa Dunkerton won after a week long battle with John Rawson and Joel Wald, Ross stating that the event was one of the most enjoyable he had ever been on and all of the other competitors and officials heartily agreed. Our Renault R16TS, very competently navigated by Gerry Bashford, went slowly but reliably which surprised me as the car was totally unproven before the rally. What will I do with it now?
Next up is the annual Austin Seven rally. I will need to blow the dust off the Austin which has not been on the road since January, but it started first time and is ready for the run. Then in late October my son Daniel and I are going on a holiday to China, visiting the Terra Cotta warriors at Xian, the Great Wall Tiananmen Square and other famous venues in Beijing, a couple of days in Hangzhou, said to be one of the most beautiful cities in China, and finally to Shanghai. Really looking forward to that.
This year is an Alpine Rally year, but it looks as though I will not be competing – no suitable car. Still, after running in my 20th Alpine in 2013, I think I have done my share. A relaxing weekend on the sidelines coming u, and then Christmas will be upon us. Another action packed year gone.
February, 2014Quite a lot has happened since I had the honour of being inducted into the Australian Rally Hall of Fame in 2013. A quick visit to New Zealand to spectate on the Otago Rally with a group of rally enthusiasts was closely followed by a lengthy outback trip in which I was assisted in the driving by Phil Rainer and Ian Swan (with a variety of fly in – fly out passengers including Dan Watson, Tim Kennon and of course Stella the schnauzer).
The outward trip took us via the Barossa and Port Augusta to Coober Pedy and the spectacular Painted Desert on Arckaringa near Oodnadatta, followed by Kings Canyon, Rainbow Valley and Alice Springs. From the Alice we headed due West on the Gary Junction Road, one of the vast network of roads constructed by Len Beadell's road construction party which opened up the outback to allow the tracking and recovery of rockets fired from Woomera back in the 1950s. This road took us via a number of Aboriginal settlements to Marble Bar. Petrol at Kunawarritji community cost $3.40 per litre, so by the time we filled the Pathfinder tank and four spare Jerry cans the bill came to $500.
The pub at Marble Bar (once known as Australia’s hottest town) was closed (!), so we pressed on to Broome for a pleasant but rather humid few days, then on via the Gibb River Road and the delightful gorges and scenery of the Kimberleys to El Questro for a couple of nights. The long journey home was via Kununurra, Katherine, Mataranka, the Devil’s Marbles and Alice again. A fantastic trip.
Then for something different, a group trip to the Goodwood Revival historic race meeting in the UK in August, organized by my friend Michael Browning. This was my second Goodwood and one could go another five times and still not take in all of the wonderful cars competing and on display. Then a friend John King and I travelled around Britain and part of Scotland for ten days, visiting two time London to Sydney marathon winner Andrew Cowan in the border country where we were very well looked after. A couple of nights in the Cotswolds completed a very pleasant tour.
The next couple of months were spent working on two projects: my latest book, which is on the history of the Bentley Driver’s Club of Australia, which is being written in conjunction with Dr Clare Hay, acknowledged world expert on vintage Bentleys. She is writing about the cars, while my contribution is about the formation and history of the club itself. The book is due for release in November 2014, and is turning out to be a very interesting and educational project.
The second project is the restoration of a 1927 Austin Seven, which I purchased from Margaret, wife of the late Maurie Monk. Maurie, one of the founders of CAMS, bought the car in New Zealand, and it only requires a relatively small amount of work to get it back on the roads. I started my motor sport career in Austin Seven cars, so this is almost a return to the womb for me. Hopefully the car will be on the roads and participating in Austin Seven Club events early in 2014.
The year was capped off when the new owner of my faithful old Datsun 1600 rally car Dave Johnson suggested we have a run in the Historic Rally Association's Alpine Rally in November. I was not confident of my fitness and ability to cope with an Alpine, but some concentrated gym work paid dividends and we had a great run, moving up from our starting position of 75 to finish 39th, not too bad for a crew which had a combined driver/navigator/car age of 200 years.
2014 is going to be busy. The action starts early with the Targa Wrest Point tarmac rally in February, in which I am co-driving for Gerry Bashford in his Escort Mexico. Then follows a week or so as a road official for the Sydney-London marathon rally which starts in Sydney in April. I am going with an old friend Chris Lee, and we will be doing controls across from the Flinders Ranges to Kalgoorlie to Perth. Looking forward to that, and perhaps also lending a hand to Tom Kennon and Peter Riseborough who are competing in a highly modified Commodore. Best of luck guys.
Closely following the marathon is a trip to Europe to spectate at the Historic Monaco Grand Prix and then a dash across to Brescia in Italy to watch the Mille Migla (thousand mile) rally around Italy. The event is a regularity run for around 400 cars built before 1957, the last year the proper Mille Miglia was run as a full on race. The race was stopped after a competing car ran off the road killing a number of spectators. In 1955 it was won by Stirling Moss driving a Mercedes Benz 300SLR sports car and co-driven by journalist Denis Jenkinson. They averaged just under 100 miles per hour for the ten hours of the event, an incredible achievement over barely closed public roads.
Then there is a break for a couple of months to finish off the Bentley book before taking to the outback again to official on the 2014 Classic Outback Trial In August. Phil Bernadou has persisted with the Classic Outback Trial, modelled on the 2008 Red Centre to Gold Coast rally but less costly and time consuming and for 2014 a good field seems assured, a just reward for the work that has gone into the development of the event. I will be using my trusty Jayco camper trailer yet again, enjoying the great Outback of NSW with Dave Johnson and of course the Dog of the Event, Stella.
Let’s see how all of that unfolds before we plan any further projects.
Bob Watson inducted into National Rally Hall of Fame.
On the evening of Tuesday February 26 I was granted the honour of being inducted into the National Rally Hall of Fame in the inaugural intake. This is my crowning achievement in over 50 years of involvement with the sport of rallying.
The award goes to those who have “consistently made an outstanding contribution to the sport in Australia including sporting performance, event organisation or promotion, or contribution as an official in any capacity”.
Thirteen people were inducted. They are (in alphabetical order), Neal Bates, Possum Bourne*, Garry Connelly, Ross Dunkerton, Harry Firth, John Large*, Gelignite Jack Murray*, George Shepheard, Tom Snooks, Doug Stewart, Donald K Thomson*, Ken Tubman*, Bob Watson.
(* - deceased)
What an honour to be grouped with those names! The presentation dinner was a great night, with over 200 people attending, including many legends of the sport. Congratulations to Paul Mullan, his wife Robyn and Katie Philps for putting together a wonderful occasion.
The Hall of Fame will be expanded with further inductees in the coming years, as there were many more candidates very close to being selected.