Tony and co-driver John Allen’s dream first season together proved that consistent podium finishes and a “Never give up” attitude are what it takes to clinch any championship title. Nanjing would be the first event the Kiwi/Aussie duo had competed in since claiming their 2008 title in December. That, coupled together with the new Prodrive built N15 Subaru Impreza, new workshop and well established CRC team members meant 2009 was feeling like a new, improved team with the same goals.
Six months out of the car had been spent trying to gain exposure in New Zealand while also negotiating with a number of teams to compete in the Asia Pacific Rally Championship.
By the time Tony met together with the familiar faces that make up the CRC’s pool of foreign drivers, it was obvious that keeping the title was not going to be easy.
The incredible driving talents from all over the globe had converged in China’s Nanjing, a city with immense history. This included the new honour of performing with Finland’s Jussi Valimaki, who was pairing up with co-driver Marko Sallinen and driving for a HongyunHonghe Rally Team with over 115 rallies to their credit.
This was looking to be an awesome year for the China Rally Championship!
Team FCACA’s first week started and ended in a way that can only be described as: “Rally… one of the toughest and cruellest sports known to man.”
Previous attempts to test, in similar conditions to Nanjing, had ended with some very unhappy locals blocking the stage. This was nothing, however, compared to our pre-event test where the locals, in terrible wet conditions, blocked both Tony’s recce and rally cars in the stage until the police, FASC and, eventually, the government arrived to help find a solution for all.
Once sorted, a turbo boost problem was next on the list and was thought to be fixed leading into Friday’s Super Special (Stage 1), a short (325 the previous evening!)metre) stage run for two laps in front of huge crowds. (A special thanks goes to Team Subaru China’s Chris Murphy for informing Tony and John that it was, in fact, two laps … a rule change as of 9pm.
Starting car number 35 on the ever-deteriorating stage was already a challenge but with 13 seconds to the stage start, Tony was asked to reverse from the start line and with 8 seconds left selected first gear…or so he thought.
Actually Tony had selected third gear on the tarmac start, entering the gravel stage on the regulation road tyres and finishing a disappointing 10th.
China Rally Championship (CRC) – Round 1 – Nanjing – June 2009.
Saturday started early and with a road position of 5th, it was time to make amends for Tony’s early mistake. After last year’s issues speed-related issues, it was decided to strictly adhere to all speed limits and to drive at 50km/h where they were not sure. This led to an extremely rushed start to Stage 2, with the team only just able to set tyre pressures in the increasing China heat. Struggling with turbo boost on the tighter sections, Tony and John’s first drive in 6 months was coming together until approximately 6km from the end of Stage 2 when that familiar flat front tyre reared its ugly head. Crawling to the end of the stage and changing the tyre led to the pair not having time to check the tyre pressures, now in excess of 2.6 bar for Stage 3.
Tony and John have been working extremely hard on their pacenotes together since their last event in an attempt to increase their pace in only their 7th rally together. After a team meeting before the Nanjing event, the pair had decided to make the notes safe so as to finish.
This was working well, until 1.7km from the end of Stage 3, a fast right-hand bend over a crest resulted in a huge impact, destroying the driver’s side rear suspension and promptly steering the car head-on into the rock bank that lined the road, spinning 180 degrees and now facing the blind crest with less than 2 minutes until the next car arrived at the same spot.
Unbelievably the car still drove, very badly, but was still able to be reversed down the extremely narrow road that followed. With Tony now unbuckled and fighting the car over 80 metres to stay in line with a ditch on his side of the car, they ran out of space on John’s side – with devastating consequences.
The road literally fell away from under the car and a very unspectacular roll resulted in a majorly damaged N15 coming to rest in a small creek.To add insult to injury, after feeling like a crew who hadn’t competed in over 6 months and on Tonys 16th rally, at the point of impact the Team FCACA N15 Subaru Impreza was third quickest on the stage with so much more to come.
Tony – “At this point in my career, I would like to thank my great friend Anthony Meyers who has supported me over half of my life through thick and thin to achieve for many an impossible goal.
Your recovery, mechanical and engineering skills are second to none!
It was an honour having you once again by my side my brother!”
Spectating is never easy and Nanjing was no exception – but the stages and the heat made for an interesting battle with a delirious Juha Salo on a drip before battling to the finish. David Higgins and Jussi Valimaki set the pace and ended with a Mitsubishi 1,2,3 after an intercom failure leads to Dean Herridge and Chris Murphy rolling out also.
1st – Jussi Valimaki & Marko Sallinen – 2.01.12
2nd – David Higgins & Leuan Thomas – + 36.3
3rd – Juha Salo & Mika Stenberg – + 48.9
Written by Darryl Fernandez