Competition Report – Into the Sunset (Steve Duniam)

A team of intrepid racers recently mounted a raid across the border into SA, to compete in a number of events across two weekends in late April and early May.

The first event was the Marque Sports Car Association of SA (MSCASA) sprint at the Tailem Bend motorsport complex, contested by an advance party of Nick Wood and Graeme Deahl on Sunday the 28th of April.

Both drivers reported that the track was fantastic – challenging and fast. With no major mechanical gremlins impacting either driver it was a straight shootout, with Nick’s very fast MGA  just pipping Deahly’s MGB for the chocolates. The result must surely be down to Nick’s superior driving skills, as both cars are completely stock standard (at least according to their owners!!)

However Graeme did receive a subsequent “popular vote” award from the rest of the team for the number, quality and sheer imagination of the excuses he produced for why he was unable to prevail over Nick despite having the more modern car.

Attention then turned to Malalla, a far more traditional circuit, based on an old WW2 airfield just north of Adelaide, with two events over the weekend of the 4th and 5th of May. Mallala is a relatively short track of around 2.6 kms, but in that distance it manages to pack in some very challenging turns, interspersed with faster sweeping sections and short straights. It is a track that can lull the driver into a sort of trance with its gentle straights and sinuous curves, then bite the unwary with a couple of very tight hairpins.

First up was an Open Track Day on the Saturday, which was in effect a warm up for the Peter Hall Memorial 6 Hour Regularity Team event to be held the following day.

No results were recorded on the Saturday but all the contestants including Graeme Ruby, Brendan Sullivan, Dan Hall, Peter Thomson and the Duniam brothers, had a thoroughly enjoyable day getting to know the track and recording some times to be applied to Sunday’s Regularity event. And more importantly no mechanical gremlins were recorded, which perhaps added to the somewhat misplaced (as it turned out!) optimism of the drivers about the fitness of their steeds to complete a 6 Hour event .More on this later.

And so to the Main Event! Two MGCCG teams of 4 drivers each contested the 6 Hour Team Regularity hosted by MSCASA:

Team A consisting of the 2 Graemes (Ruby and Deahl) plus Geoff Duniam (all MGB mounted) plus Nick in the A.

Team B consisted of Dan Hall in his rapid Midget, Peter Thomson in yet another absolutely stock MGB, Brendan S in his MGA, and Steve D in the MGA Jag special.

Competition between the two teams was intense with a prize of a dinner at stake to be provided by the losers to the winners, and much gentle ribbing and gamesmanship was applied prior to the kick-off in order to unsettle the opposition.

The Supp Regs for this event runs to something like 28 pages so I won’t bore anyone with the details, but the event is a team relay event over 6 hours, with one car from each team on the track at any one time, and scoring points for laps completed but more importantly, earning bonus or losing penalty laps for being over or under the nominated times. To make things more interesting each team driver has to wear its Team’s “sash” while on the track, requiring a transfer from incoming and outgoing drivers in the pits… Sounds complicated? Well it was, but by about the third hour the teams had pretty much sorted out the sash transfer, and also the timing and signalling requirements in an attempt to keep the drivers circulating as close to possible to their nominated times.

Absolutely key to the whole process was Kerry Thomson who tirelessly acted as Team Manager, Pit communications officer, and sash transferrer for both teams throughout the day. Without her huge efforts, the event would have descended into a shambolic mess for both Teams.

Thanks Kerry – you are an absolute superstar!

As a comparison, some of the other Teams had support crews of 6 or more people, backed up by radio communications and digital timing boards to advise the drivers of their times. Obviously 1 MGCCG Team member is worth 6 from any other team.

So to the event, and for the first hour or so, both teams’ cars circulated reliably and racked up laps and bonus points, and the Teams settled into the unfamiliar routines of structured pit stops, car exchanges and pit lane signalling.

But the requirement for relatively long sessions for each car/driver combo, in quite warm weather began to impact on the condition of most of the cars. A number of cars started to record mechanical issues, requiring unscheduled pitstops for attention, and thereby upsetting the timing of the changeovers.

The only car to have a relatively faultless run was Graeme D’s MGB, and this was evident in the final results. All of the other cars suffered from sort of mechanical malaise during the day: Brendan’s MGA dropped a fan belt and was in danger of terminal overheating necessitating two early track exits, brake issues plagued Nick and Graeme R,  Dan’s Midget suffered loss of power, and battery charging faults impacted the B’s of Peter T and Geoff D, and Steve’s MGA Jag. The sight of three MG’s lined up having their batteries recharged between track stints raised questions about whether we had abandoned the internal combustion engine for electrical power.

It speaks volumes for not only the essential reliability of Abingdon’s finest, but also the ingenuity and improvisational skills of the drivers, that most of the cars were patched up and returned to the track and continued to rack up the laps.

But motorsport is an unforgiving mistress, and it should never be forgotten that it IS dangerous – even at the relatively amateur level at which we compete. This was driven home for the team when Nick’s gorgeous MGA suffered a total brake failure just as he was about to enter the pit lane. In an attempt to slow the car without impacting the cars on the racing line, Nick unfortunately rolled, causing significant body damage to the car. Nick was shaken but thankfully unhurt, demonstrating how critical it is to have a proper rollbar and harnesses fitted to any open car. The sight of his crumpled A on the trailer was a very sobering reminder that while competition is fun, it does come with potentially very serious consequences. We all wish Nick the best as he contemplates another substantial rebuild of his car, prior to returning to the track.

As the sun began to set on the last hour a scramble developed for both teams to keep cars on the track as others were subbed out as a result of mechanical issues. As the 5PM finish approached both teams were down to only 1 or 2 operational cars, and I for one was never happier to see a checkered flag when it finally dropped. I’ve never driven at Le Mans, but I feel like I have some very small understanding of the challenges and satisfaction of competing in a relatively long event.

And so to the results: It pains me to report that the A Team under Captain Deahl came 9th overall with a score of 46.22%, while Team B under my clearly less adequate control came a lowly 15th with a score of 38.74%. Dinner is on us!

Notwithstanding Nick’s incident, this was a fabulous event, well run on a very historic and entertaining track. For me personally, it also had the added flavour of being a team event, which provided a whole other dimension compared to our usual events which tend to be completely individual.

When bookended with some gentle touring by the Team via the wineries and coastal regions of SE SA and Victoria it made for a truly memorable week, and the team is already starting to plan its next cross border raid in 2025.