Wittenoom to Port Hedland

The morning run from Wittenoom to Port Hedland not only included perhaps the most memorable piece of road in the event, but was decisive in Brock’s victory. The Nunyerry Horror Stage and its Chocolate Ruffle Pass is remembered by all competitors who did the stage for the incredibly rough terrain, long sandy creek crossings and the strikingly beautiful scenery. The subsequent stage looked easy but had some sand traps which caught out many. The Ferguson/Bell Commodore got stuck on both stages while Brock had a dream run, grabbing a 25 minute lead by Port Hedland. These stages also saw Cowan strike trouble and drop behind Mehta.

The Chocolate Ruffle Pass
(Photo grabbed from the ABC Sport video)

W14 – Nunyerry Horror Trial Stage

DistanceTime allowedFirst car dueMap
118.6 km2 hours7.10 am Saturday
Actual approx. 7.50 am
Click here

The Nalder Celica and Barth's Porsche wait to start the Nunyerry Horror Stage at dawn
(Photo: Ian Richards)

This horror stage was nothing more than a bulldozer scrape through much of its length, some used as station tracks and some perhaps built for mining exploration. The first part meandered through rugged ranges over a track that was substantially made up of sharp rocks averaging 15 cm in diameter. It was literally walking pace with the under-bodies of cars taking a battering. It eventually reached the shallow valley of the Sherlock River where there were a series of sandy and rocky creek crossings, including the 300 metre wide Sherlock River and one other large tributary where the Port Hedland 4WD Club were stationed to tow vehicles through.

The so-called track early in the Nunyerry Horror Stage
(Photo: Ian Richards)

The pièce de résistance was the Chocolate Ruffle Pass, at 65 km into the stage, where cars passed through a small range made of huge iron ore rocks and the track was also made of huge boulders averaging 30 cm in size.

Cowan negotiating the Chocolate Ruffle Pass
(Photo grabbed from the ABC Sport video)

After the Chococate Ruffle Pass the track generally improved into a fairly fast station track but still with creeks, washaways, rocks and some sandy stretches. The stage ended just a short distance from the main coastal highway. The 2 hours allowed was just 60 km/h but no-one would clean this one. The organisers had specified a maximum penalty of one hour, but crews still had to keep an eye on their late running time limit.

The "good" track in the Nunyerry Horror Stage
(Photo: Ian Richards)

The Ferguson Commodore, with Bell driving, was first to enter the stage starting at about 5.30 am, just as the slightest glimmers of daylight would have been brightening the eastern sky. Next was Brock about 10 minutes behind, then Cowan perhaps 5-10 minutes behind, then about 5 minutes to the Mehta Commodore with Dunkerton perhaps another 10 minutes behind. So the first five cars were spread over at least 30 minutes. Then there was a gap of about 30 minutes to the next group of cars - Barth, Nalder, Loader and Portman, with the cutting and running Datsun 1600 of Dave Colless slotting into the middle of that group. This second group all started the stage just after sunrise.
Bell punctured two tyres simultaneously early on and they were stopped for a considerable time changing tyres and straightening the bent rims. Brock came up behind and they agreed to travel in convoy. When they reached the Sherlock River Bell immediately became stuck and being first on the road, it perhaps took the 4WDs a few minutes to get organised. It would have also been barely light! Brock waited on solid ground while Richards and Philip surveyed the area on foot and they eventually waved Brock through and he did not get bogged. Knowing that the other team Commodore (Mehta) would be fairly close behind, they decided to head off. According to Beaumont, quoted in the Challenge book, Cowan caught and passed both of them, presumably while Brock was waiting. The 17 car may have been bogged twice, but in any case, Brock dropped 16 minutes to Ferguson's 30 minutes. Ferguson's lead had been cut to 6 minutes. It was a decisive stage in the event.
But the dramas were not over. Soon after and now perhaps first on the road, Cowan cracked a hydraulic line on a rock and lost suspension. A trail of hydraulic fluid marked the location. They stopped for a considerable time while Reddiex effected makeshift repairs to at least close off the cracked pipe and get some suspension. The Brock and Ferguson cars were of course now well gone. Soon the Mehta car arrived and joked with them briefly about the curse that Mehta had put on the Citroen by pissing on its wheel! Mehta continued, doing the fastest time on the stage, almost catching the Ferguson Commodore. Dunkerton was also going quite slowly, perhaps with more broken shockers, but also eventually passed Cowan who was travelling even slower. In fact Cowan was going so slowly that they were also caught by some of the next group of cars. The Barth 924 was making reasonable time and was the first of that group to pass Cowan, and almost caught Dunkerton. Early in the stage the Loader Lancer (Hill driving) passed the Nalder Celica (Richards driving) who had strategically decided to take the one hour maximum and preserve the car. Hill then passed Cowan towards the end of the stage. Portman also passed the Celica and then passed the Lancer and the ailing Citroen. Portman had moved up to sixth on the road, a remarkable recovery after his Wanneroo roll. Cowan made it out just in front of the Celica, and was therefore at least an hour and a half late, but the stage had a one hour maximum.
The next group of cars probably included Rowney, who was flying, as well as Davis, Watson, and perhaps Stewart, Mason and Hilton. Bob Watson, in his book In Control, suggests that he travelled together with Hill, Nalder and Davis on this stage, but he also admits that his recollection is vague. Certainly the Peugeot team may have worked together with the Davis Datsun but it was perhaps the Hilton Celica and others, since Hill and Nalder were quite some distance ahead. Stewart and Parry certainly had considerable delays in the sand on this and the next stage and arrived at Port Hedland absolutely exhausted and ready to give up.
Further back two of the Cortinas were battling on. Carr broke a rear axle locating bolt on the stage and had to hold it in place with the winch, but they made it through to Port Hedland. Bond's perserverence finally came to an end in this stage when the Cortina's sump haemorrhaged. They eventually retreated to Wittenoom, desperately scrounging oil from oncoming cars, and then headed for Darwin after making repairs.

In all, about 50 cars completed the stage with about 30 cars doing under the one hour maximum:

  • Mehta 11
  • Brock, Rowney 16
  • Mizel 17
  • Herrmann 18
  • Portman 21
  • Wilson 22
  • Watson, Foden 23
  • Clyborne 25
  • Goldsborough 28
  • Ferguson 30
  • Barth 31
  • Maloney 34
  • Loader 37
  • Jackson, Roberts, Birrell 39
  • Gough 40
  • Beveridge 48
  • Hurrey, Bolch 49
  • Mason 50
  • Sheridan 51
  • Dunkerton, Clarke 53
  • Giddings 54
  • Davis, Caddey 57
  • Bell 59
Those who took the one hour maximum were Cowan, Nalder, Carr, Jensen, Murray, O'Shanesy, Hilton, Faulkner, Miettunen, Kuss, Finlay, Lockhart, Myers, Nicholson, Herdy, Lahiff, Travis, Haslam, Stockley, Rayner and Stewart. What this doesn't show is how much over the hour they were. Nalder was only a couple of minutes over with a slow but clean run whereas Stewart had apparently been bogged for 3 hours.

W15 – Poverty Creek Transport

DistanceTime allowedFirst car dueMap
14.5 km12 minutes7.22 am Saturday
Actual approx. 8.10 am
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This short run along the Coastal Highway provided nothing more than the briefest of respite for the tired crews who were deperately looking for the rest break, albeit brief, in Port Hedland.
Of the leaders, Rowney dropped a minute. Some cutting and running crews rejoined here after heading up the coastal highway from Geraldton. Among them was the Koseki Subaru which somehow slotted in among the leader, probably behind Dunkerton.

W16 – Mundabullungara Trial Stage

DistanceTime allowedFirst car dueMap
111.6 km1 hour 7 minutes8.29 am Saturday
Actual approx. 9.20 am
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The start of the Mudabullungara Trial Stage today give some idea of the remote terrain
(Photo grabbed from Google Maps Street View)

This should have been a straightforward stage, run mostly along the old coastal highway that runs parallel to the new highway somewhat closer to the coast. The first 11 km of the stage utilised some vague station tracks before turning onto the more main old highway. About 18 km from the end was a spectator point where a road joins from the right from the highway and quite a few of the later crews must have joined in here and actually managed to book in early at the end of the stage, which was almost on the outskirts of South Port Hedland. There was a concrete causeway just after the spectator point where quite a few photographs were taken that appeared in subsequent publications. Of some interest is that the causeways on the second part of this stage appear to have been destroyed by floodwaters in recent times and there is now a new road from the highway into Mudabullungara Homestead such that the second half of the stage is now largely untrafficable.

Cowan's Citroen with broken hydraulics limps across the caseway before Port Hedland
(Photo courtesy of Ray Berghouse, Chevron Publishing)

The road order into this stage would have been Brock about 5 minutes ahead of Ferguson and maybe another 10 minutes to Mehta. Then there was a big gap of perhaps 50 minutes to Dunkerton then about 5 minutes to Barth (and perhaps Koseki), then about 10 or 15 minutes back to a group comprising Portman, Loader, Cowan and Nalder all reasonably close together (plus the cutting and running Colless). Despite the 100 km/h average required, the stage was cleanable if you didn’t strike trouble. But plenty of people did. About midway through the stage there was a culvert followed by several hundred metres of deep sand. Immediately after the culvert was a side track around the sand but few people saw it or took it because of the relatively high approach speed. Brock got through, cleaning the stage, but Ferguson was stuck for over 30 minutes. The trouble was that there was nothing to winch off and they had to wait perhaps 10 minutes for Mehta to arrive. According to Tuckey in An old dog for a hard road, Mehta helped Ferguson winch out, using Mehta's Commodore as the anchor. Mehta dropped about 10 and left Ferguson to pack up the winch, with the 17 car eventually dropping 31 minutes. Brock had taken a commanding 25 minute lead.
With the sand bog now clear again Dunkerton got stuck but not for too long, leaving the way open for Barth to get stuck for quite a while. The two man crew must have been exhausted and they eventually dropped 38 minutes. Frustratingly, the Subaru of Koseki probably didn't get stuck because they were going so slowly that they were able to take the side track! Barth was just about extricated when along came Colless, Portman, Loader and Nalder who were all bogged at the same time, with the Celica and Lancer crews helping each other out since there was not much to winch off other than hammering a star picket into the sand. Loader's clutch had been overheated and would need changing later that afternoon.

The Loader/Hill/Neale Lancer crossing the causeway before Port Hedland
(Photo courtesy of Ray Berghouse, Chevron Publishing)

Next along came Cowan who was haemorrhaging time with failed hydraulics and no suspension. Nalder had passed the Citroen but paradoxically, Cowan's slow speed meant he could take the side track and was not bogged, sailing gently past the bogged Lancer and Celica, although the Citroen still dropped 22 minutes. Further back, perhaps Carr had the same luck, travelling relatively slowly with the rear axle held in place by the winch or perhaps they were lucky enough to see others already bogged, so avoiding the same fate! The thrills were not quite over. Towards the end of the section there was a long concrete causeway with a huge hole in it which was quite scary at high speed. All in all, what should have been a straightforward stage turned out to be pretty exciting. Several cars dropped more than an hour, including Goldsborough, Caddey and the Bell/Vaughan Peugeot 203, which was now out of late time and effectively excluded. Bloch dropped more than 2 hours while Caudle, Easton and Rayner took 4 hour maximums.
About 50 cars completed the stage while an additional ten cars booked in early suggesting that they had short cut via the spectator point. Fastest times:

  1. Brock, Carr, Rowney, Jensen, Wilson clean
  2. Herrmann, Mizel 2
  3. Jackson 4
  4. Lockhart, Roberts, Myers 5
  5. Beveridge, Giggings 6
  6. McCubbin, Mason 7
  7. Murray, Clarke, O'Donnell 8
  8. Mehta, Minett 10
  9. Hilton, Kahler 12
  10. Watson, Koseki, Miettunen 13
  11. Dunkerton, Finlay, Faulkner, Bray 14
  12. Davis, Lunney 16
  13. Maloney 18
  14. Hurrey 19
  15. Colless 20
  16. Cowan 22
  17. Portman, Birrell, Travis 25
  18. Nalder 27
  19. Ferguson 31
  20. Loader 36
  21. Herdy 37
  22. Barth 38
  23. Garner 431
  24. Goldsborough 1.01
  25. Caddey 1.22
  26. Bell 1.36
  27. Bolch 2.22

At Port Hedland there were 19 cars that had not missed a control with Bond falling from the list since Wittenoom. Cowan's problems allowed Mehta up into third. Rowney's good run over the two stages saw him climb five places. The scores were as follows:

  1. Brock/Philip/Richards (Commodore) 1.47.06
  2. Ferguson/Bell/Boddy (Commodore)2.12.39
  3. Mehta/Aaltonen/Lake (Commodore) 3.44.38
  4. Cowan/Reddiex/Beaumont (Citroen CX) 3.59.48
  5. Dunkerton/McKay/Jones (Volvo 244) 4.41.08
  6. Carr/Morrow/Gocentas (Cortina) 4.59.41
  7. Portman/Thompson/Hammond (Stanza) 5.05.55
  8. Rowney/Wilson/Tyson (Datsun 180B) 7.25.03
  9. Nalder/Richards/Boyd (Celica) 7.43.02
  10. Loader/Hill/Neale (Lancer) 8.08.28
  11. Barth/Kushmaul (Porsche 924) 8.09.07
  12. Davis/Eather/Toner (Datsun 180B) 8.09.17
  13. Watson/Harrowfield (Peugeot 504 Diesel) 9.00.23
  14. Herrmann/Rainsford (Porsche 911) 9.03.40
  15. Stewart/Parry (Commodore) score not known
  16. Mason/Hicks/Horley (Commodore) 9.20.17
  17. Hilton/Bourke/Pattenden (Celica) 9.34.20
  18. Jackson/West/Jackson (Commodore) 11.47.38
  19. Mizel/Hall/Fricker/Mortimer (Chevy Blazer) 12.05.38

Next: Port Hedland to Derby

1 comment:

Ian Richards said...

We set off on the Nunyerry Horror stage at 6.52 am, light enough to not need headlights, taking due care and expecting nothing much worse than the previous night’s horror stage. However, we had only gone a handful of kms before we were in very rugged country with steep drops and climbs, narrow gorges and a track surface primarily made up of rocks averaging 6 inches in diameter! The creek crossings were generally not much different to the rest of the track. After doing 10 km in about 20 minutes we decided that we would almost certainly take the one hour maximum penalty so we chose to go very easy on the car. Soon after, Ian Hill came up behind us in the Lancer and we waved him through while we stopped to take a photo! Very soon after Portman went past with the Stanza looking decidedly second hand, but he was still pushing. Somewhat later the Datsun 1600 of Dave Colless went past also but we plodded on, content to set our own pace. The rocks were often so large that we were often scraping the sills, and in one spot I stopped and got out to inspect the best way through. At the Sherlock River we did the leap frogging bit for about a hundred metres to the right bend up the slope then paid our $5 and got towed the remainder. After that the track was better quality but still very yumpy. We crossed a sand dune with quite deep ruts and only seemed to just make it through. Another sandy creek crossing and another short $5 tow. Geoff informed me we were likely to take almost exactly the maximum hour lateness – no matter that those who had passed us would take actual time from us. We could see the Chocolate Ruffle Pass as we approached – a huge line of brown boulders piled up across the horizon. The ABC film crew were just before. We stopped in awe and inspected the best route over the huge rocks and then clambered, crab like, through to the other side. The going was somewhat easier for the remainder of the stage but still plenty of creeks, rocks, sand and gates. We took 3 minutes more than the one hour maximum but there was no-one in sight ahead or behind. I was exhausted from the stage and handed over to Wes.
Wes drove the short transport and then the Mundabullungara stage with me navigating to give Geoff a rest. Geoff didn’t get much rest as it was quick but very bumpy and yumpy. The suspension was also very tired and the struts would be replaced in Port Hedland. About a third of the way through the stage we passed Cowan who was going very slowly – the Citroen was sitting down low with no hydraulics. At 66 km we came to the culvert with the sand trap after. The Lancer had their winch cable across the road and we initially went over it and got a bit further into the sand. Portman, Colless and the Porsche were stuck a bit further ahead. The Lancer had been winching off a small tree but were changing tack to hammer in a stake and winch leftwards towards the solid bypass road. We did likewise, quickly getting a star picket into the ground. The three cars ahead extricated themselves while Cowan slowly sauntered by on the left! Wes held the top of the star picket while Geoff winched and I gave the wheels an occasional turn, being careful not to slip the clutch too much. We could smell the Lancer’s clutch! I spoke to Frank Neale out the open window and suggested we join forces with 5 of us pushing each car. It worked and we both packed away our winches and we let them go first of course. Geoff went back to sleep and we pressed on. The only other scare was that bloody big hole in the long concrete causeway. Phew! It was good to get to Port Hedland in one piece.