AMC samples tarmac rallying aboard a mighty Mustang in the Lake Mountain Sprint.
AMC samples tarmac rallying aboard a mighty Mustang – on some of the best roads, and varied weather, this country has to offer – in the Lake Mountain Sprint. Bring your jacket though.
Imagine a weekend spent in and around the picturesque Yarra Valley region in rural southeastern Victoria. You are at the wheel of your cherished Aussie muscle car, with a mate or perhaps your partner alongside for the ride as you guide the rumbling beast through the twists and turns of some of the best roads this country has to offer.
Except that this is not a normal weekend drive in the country.
On this drive, the road has been closed especially for you – the road is yours. It is, for this weekend only, a one-way road: you do not need to worry about anything coming the other way.
Afterwards you’ll want to swap stories with some of the other drivers who have just enjoyed the same exhilarating experience that you have. Or perhaps you’ll want to chat with Phil Brock. The former touring car racing star has just driven the same roads as you, at the wheel of his own everyday-drive, a VE Commodore SS. Brock happens to be your driving mentor for the weekend.
The weekend in question is the Lake Mountain Sprint at Marysville, the second round of the Australian Tarmac Rally Championship. AMC took up an invitation to run in the event from the promoter, Mountain Motorsport. Our vehicle was a brand new Ford Mustang GT supplied by Craig Dean of Mustang Motorsport.
Dean himself was also in the event, at the wheel of, naturally, a Mustang. But his Ponycar was a little different from ours; it’s a Shelby GT500
extensively modified as a bona-fide Targa-style rally machine.
Craig won the Australian Tarmac Rally Championship in 2015. This year he faced a 29-car field in the ‘outright’ division. The section itself is divided into classes, for Modern – modified (vehicles like the Shelby), Classic pre-1982 (which included machines such as Mark Hammond’s wildly modified Jaguar XJS and Mick Downey’s Torana LX SL/R 5000), and show-room-spec vehicles which meet tarmac rally specifications. Within these group classifications, classifications, it’s a simple matter of he or she who is fastest, wins.
But ATRC events like this offer other levels of driving in addition to the outright speed classes. There is a regularity section, in which entrants attempt to drive each stage of the event in a specified time at a specified average speed. There are penalty points for both late and early arrivals; the crew with the least amount of penalties wins.
The third group is the ‘Touring’ category. This is the entry point to Tarmac rallying. All that’s required here, apart from the entry fee and $75 for a club race licence, is your road car and an approved helmet. There is no formal competition in the touring section; rather, the thrill here is simply the opportunity to drive your everyday road car at higher-than-usual speeds – and, at this event, under the guidance of Phil Brock.
Like ‘conventional’ (off-road) rallies, the competition sections require a co-driver. In the speed sections the co-drivers call the route with rally-style pace notes.
In the Regularity and Touring sections it was a more leisurely affair, with the co-driver being able to provide an indication of what was to come corner-wise by following the route charts (but even this was neither necessary nor mandatory in the Touring section – you can, if you wish, run as a solo driver).
Our Mustang was one of 18 entrants in Touring. This section had everything from Geoff and Priscilla Rogers’ Audi TT RS to David Lynch’s VF Clubsport wagon, complete with baby seats in the rear (as well as 320kW at the rear wheels
from this specially warmed-over HSV).
This was the ninth running of the event. Marysville, at the foot of the Yarra Ranges, is the base for the rally, which runs on roads within the Yarra Ranges National Park. The route took in 16 closed road stages, running along the road from Marysville up to (and back from) the resort at the top of Lake Mountain, as well as additional stages to and from nearby Arnold’s Gap.
For those unfamiliar with the Yarra Ranges area, this is a breathtakingly beautiful part of Australia. But what’s even better is the quality of the roads. It’s hard to imagine a place more suited to this kind of thing: the Lake Mountain Road road surface is smooth, and it snakes its way up and down the mountain in a seemingly endless series of long sweeps and fast and slow corners. To take such a road as this, with nothing coming in the opposite direction, is sheer motoring joy.
That sense of joy was (literally) dampened, though, by downpours on Friday night and Saturday morning. Rain is probably the last thing you want on an event like this – apart from snow, which was something that looked alarmingly likely on a chilly morning start to the rally.
It did snow up the top at the Lake Mountain Resort, although the ugly phenomenon of black ice never really reared its head. Nonetheless, the nearly-icy conditions forced
the downgrading of several of the
Saturday stages. Thankfully the weather cleared for Sunday’s activities.
There was the odd mishap, however, particularly on day one. The slippery roads were certainly a cause for caution. According to Adam Kaplan, a Targa rally veteran with V8 Supercar and Formula Holden race experience, this event posed the most challenging road conditions he’d ever seen.
Even so, Kaplan and co-driver Mary Hughes managed well enough to claim the overall victory, which was a pretty good effort in their Allan Moffat pseudo-replica Mazda RX7 given these were conditions tailor-made for their all-wheel-drive Audi, Lancer EVO and WRX opposition.
Craig Dean and co-driver Jenny Cole ended up sixth, next best of the non-AWD cars. The slippery roads did not exactly make for the sort of environment in which the big, powerful Ford could do its best work, and Jenny admitted to forcefully communicating a few choice swear words to her driver at different times when it looked like the big blue Shelby might be headed for an unintended engagement with the Yarra Ranges scenery.
Still, sixth place for the Mustang in such adverse conditions was a commendable result, especially given that they’d resorted to Craig’s ‘old’ Shelby for this event, on account of the newer Mustang Motorsport Targa Mustang still not having been repaired from its Targa Tasmania shunt earlier in the year. Craig’s spectacular in-car footage of the crash can be seen online at youtube.com
As for the ‘sister’ Mustang Motorsport entry, your AMC correspondent and photographer importantly were able to bring the shiny new yellow machine home in one piece.
We made that our number one goal, which meant leaving a wide margin for error pretty much the whole way. Yet even when one decides that discretion is the better part of valour, it doesn’t mean that one can’t have a ball – because we certainly did. And the drying roads on Sunday afternoon capped it off brilliantly – providing not only a glimpse of just how much fun an entire weekend of this kind of thing can be, but also just what a superbly balanced machine the new magnificent new Mustang is.
And that’s the thing: you’ll only ever find out just how good your muscle car really is on an event like this.
After Lake Mountain, the Tarmac Rally season went into ‘hibernation’ for the winter. It returns in late September for the Snowy River Sprint, and it’s back to Marysville in December for the final round, the Great Tarmac Rally.
A weekend away in the picturesque Yarra Valley, driving on some of the best roads in the country – there’s a lot to like about the Lake Mountain Sprint.