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January 18, 2021
One of the differences between rallying now and back when I was a competitor is how starting order is determined. The method used now is seeding, where drivers' past performances are used to have faster cars ahead of slower ones. It is rare for anyone to catch the car in front of them (except maybe lower down in the field) and increases safety because passing manoeuvres carry more risk at higher speeds. Back in the day, starting order was decided by ballot, although sometimes a limited form of seeding was used by dividing competitors into groups. (One example of this was the Lady Drivers Rally in Canberra which had two seeded groups with starting order determined by ballot within the groups. The groups could best be described as "drivers we know or have heard about" and "strangers to us".) This often meant that you had to have half your mind on who might appear in the mirrors.
A rally I competed in had two "lady drivers" entered – my wife Virginia with her regular navigator Phil, driving my Datsun 1600, and Jan and her husband Noel in a Holden Torana. When the balloted starting order was announced they were the last two cars to start. I was navigating for my future brother-in-law Alan in his Gemini. (His future wife was navigating in another car – rallying has always been a family affair.)
At the end of the rally, Jan and Noel were the first car on the road, having passed everyone who started in front of them. Unfortunately they attracted a penalty somewhere along the way which prevented them from being declared the winners of the rally. Alan and I were second finishers on the road, not because we had been really fast all night but because we had started near the front of the field. We were placed about eighth in the final results.
But let me tell you about the third car to finish.
The final competitive stage ended with a straight run of more than a kilometre along the forest boundary. We were motoring along when Alan told me that a car was catching us and he asked if he should pull over and let them past. I should point out that the rules were quite clear about this – if a car caught you you were obliged to let them through. (I had someone try to lodge a protest against me in a rally once. His complaint was that I distracted him by tailgating him and flashing my lights. He did not get much sympathy from the event stewards.)
I looked in the mirror and saw that the approaching car had a distinctive pattern of lights – three Cibié Super Oscar driving lights, with the headlights turned off.
My instructions to Alan were quite clear. Despite what the rules said, he was not to let that car past in any circumstances or I would die of embarrassment. Imagine telling people that you had been caught and passed by your wife driving your car, particularly as she had had to pass almost all of the field to get to you.
I think Virginia was about five millimetres behind us when we went through the timing point, but honour had been preserved.
Virginia and Phil won the event, starting at the rear of the field. Jan and Noel would have won if they hadn't scored a penalty. Don't ever tell me that women can't drive.
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