A return of enthusiasm

They say you never forget how to ride a bike, but does the same thing apply to driving cars?

Back in the 1970s and 1980s I was a regular competitor in motor sport, driving a variety of cars in a variety of events - motorkhanas, hillclimbs, lap dashes (single timed laps of a motor racing circuit from a rolling start) and particularly rallies. I sold my rally car at the end of 1981 (a new house with a big mortgage will do that to you) and for the next couple of years continued as a rally navigator.

The last time I competed on a circuit was in 1982, when I entered a lap dash at Amaroo Park in the Holden station wagon that had been used to tow the rally car. I'd just been given a company car so I thought that driving around a race track would be a fitting way to say goodbye to the wagon.

Fast forward to 2016. I'd moved to Oberon, a place very familiar to me from the rallying days. I'd both competed in rallies in the forests around the town and even directed some. I remember conducting a drivers' briefing standing on a milk crate outside Peter's Café on one occasion.

When I saw that rallies were still going on in those same forests I decided to get involved again, but this time as an observer. I acquired media accreditation and set about going to rallies, taking photographs and writing stories both for my own web site and for various newspapers, including the Oberon Review a few times.

In the middle of 2022 I received an invitation to be a codriver in a rally. I didn't know the driver, although it later came out that we had both been at the wedding of one of my navigators back in history. I thought about it for about a microsecond and said "Yes". I bought a helmet, got a competition licence and thought about how much had changed in the decades since I'd last occupied the second chair. Once in the car (which was twice as powerful and almost twice as fast as anything I'd been in before) it took me until the driver changed into third gear to be right back where I'd been. Hooked!

I decided that I'd like to get back into the game with a car suitable for club level motor sport, and after a search and some frustrating experiences with sellers I found something that suited both the budget and the purpose - a 1995 Ford Laser Lynx, a two-door version of the regular Laser with a bit more engine and better suspension and brakes. All I needed now was somewhere to try it out.

Ready to go out on the track for its first event.

It seemed logical to try it out close to home so I entered in the first two rounds of the 2023 NSW Hillclimb Championship to be held over a weekend at Mount Panorama. Some bonnet locking pins, a fire extinguisher, a blue triangle to show where the battery is and the car was ready to go.

On the day I was a bit surprised to find that I had almost the only car which didn't arrive on a trailer, even the ones on the road registered production car class that the Lynx was entered in, but as it was part of a championship this was not unexpected. I wasn't there to win anything, just to have some fun and see what the car could do.

I mentioned remembering how to ride a bike. Well, this was my first motor sport event on bitumen as a driver since 1982. It was also the first time I'd driven a manual car since 2015, except for about five minutes on one occasion. I'd had the car for seven weeks and was still getting used to it and the tyres on it were nothing special (almost all the other cars there, including all the other production cars were running either racing tyres or very high performance road tyres). I've also mentioned that I was there to have fun and learn about the car, not to win anything.

So how did it go on the day? It went slowly. The car is actually totally unsuited to hill climbing, but nothing a few shovelfuls of money couldn't fix. A bit more power would have been useful as well as a bit more grip. It was no coincidence that another version of the Laser with all-wheel drive, a turbocharged engine and racing tyres was consistently about 15 seconds faster than me. The fastest car on both days got up the hills in about half the time I was taking, but it was a formula racer driven by the 2022 champion so it's not really a fair comparison.

So would I do it again, despite challenging for slowest time of the day? Of course I would. I'll definitely have better tyres next time (I found the limit on these ones on one corner but I was expecting it so there was no drama), I'll get an expert to tune the engine and I'll still just go out to have some fun. My motto back in the olden days was "I'm here to play the game, not to win the game" and that hasn't changed.

Someone once described motor sport as the most fun you can have sitting down and the little red car will give me a chair to sit on for more fun in the future. Hooked!

Because I was competing in the hillclimbs I couldn't be taking photos.
The red machine ascending the Esses at Mt Panorama, March 4, 2023
Photo by Trent Bennett Photography

A report on the event appeared in the Oberon Review on March 9, 2023

Copyright © 2016- Peter Bowditch

Logos and trademarks belong to whoever owns them

Find us on Facebook