Words and Photos by Daniel Borton
Day 1 – Rockhampton to Tambo
Normally the first day is all on sealed roads. This is so everyone can get to know their buddy group, and for some, get to know their cars. Some teams have their car freighted to the start line without really having the opportunity to get much driving in on it, others have some issues with their rally car on the way to the start line and end up acquiring something else on the way up. The sealed roads give the opportunity to get used to the cars without putting too much stress on them.
But because of the easier trip on day 5, we’d be onto the dirt roads on day 1. At 628km, this was a long first day, particularly with 245 of them on the dirt.
The starting point was the Rockhampton Showgrounds with everyone arriving between 7:00 and 8:00 for briefing and people to see the start. Breakfast was available (although we’d already eaten), and there were many last minute preparations. Some as simple as putting stickers on cars, others more substantial and complex. It was great to see all the cars, and the extent that some people had decorated. The majority of the photos I took in the link below are from the start line, although I ran out of time before I could photograph all the cars.
Surprisingly, we weren’t the smallest car on the rally. In fact there were four cars smaller than ours, including actual kei cars. While the Japanese Alto is a kei car, the global model that we got isn’t. The smaller cars were:
- A 1980’s Suzuki hatch that wasn’t supposed to go. The owners were doing it in a Toyota Dyna truck, but they had friends doing the rally who’s car died on the way to the start line, so the Suzuki was offered as an alternative. But not before the broken axle was replaced and along with the shock absorber mounts.
- A Nissan S Cargo – A Japanese import that sadly didn’t make it to the finish line.
- An early 1980’s yellow Suzuki Carry.
- A 2000-ish black Suzuki Carry (this was 17cm longer than the Alto, but 12cm narrower).
There were also two mid 2000’s Suzuki Swifts, who’s owners I started making friends with early on the rally. Nothing like having a back up spare parts source if the cars died.
There were 35 buddy groups, and departures were coordinated a couple of minutes apart taking about 90 minutes for everyone to leave. We were in buddy group 20, so left after about 45 minutes.
We arranged who would lead, and who would be our tail end, and headed off to leave Rockhampton. With so many cars leaving, there was a bit of congestion, and also lots of confusion as the number of people that couldn’t read maps or didn’t know left from right became apparent and many people took wrong turns.
Our first fuel stop was 270km in at Emerald. With 250 shitboxes stopping at 3 petrol stations, each with multiple pumps, it was a good test of our filling efficiency. It was also a good lunch break before we continued on. While we were the 20th group to leave Rockhampton, we didn’t hang around as much as some of the other teams at lunch and got a bit further forward in the larger group.
Throughout the whole of the first day, we had people along the sides of the roads waving us on. There were families out at the ends of their driveways in suburban areas, and in rural areas where homesteads are kilometres apart. The rally had let most of the local communities we were passing through know that we were coming, and most had shared the news amongst their community. It was great seeing the young kids our cheering the cars on. Some of them were seeing more cars drive past their house in a day than would normally go past in months.
In the afternoon, Not a V8 took the lead in our buddy group and set the pace for the group. We were able to keep pretty good speed, not getting stuck behind too many other groups. It had been a relatively smooth day, aside from me taking a water filled dip a little bit too fast. We arrived in Tambo to join the fuel line at about 5:45. The petrol station had two pumps for faster filling, but a prepay system that caused a few bottlenecks. We were one of the earlier groups in, so were finished within an hour and a half.
Petrol station lines on the rally can be great fun, but they don’t usually happen on day 1. They’re a bit of a downtime when people can chat, play cricket, or take a time out at the pub where there is one. At Tambo plenty of the locals came out to see. Some joined the fuel line, and despite offers to skip it and go to the front, they seemed excited to wait a little while with us. Some local kids were walking up and down the line looking at the cars, with one girl excitedly proclaiming ‘this is better than Halloween’.
Unlike everyone else, our buddy group had been allocated a camping area each night that was close to the accessible toilets. This meant we didn’t have to decide where to camp on the oval, and could drive in to where we were told, and set right up. We were set up by 8:00 and went across for dinner before bonding more with our buddy group.
Some of the cars that were towards the back of the fuel line when we left before 7:30 were arriving into camp at about 10:30.
Later in the night there was a few grumbles about disorganisation of the fuelling process, and how long people had to wait. Fuel lines are one of the social points of the rally. You can hang with your car, or get out and have a wander and chat. The first time you’re in a fuel line on the rally can seem like a bit of a waste of time, but you get to have a chat, meet people from other buddy groups, and just be social.