Hill climb reaches peak

READY FOR ACTION: South Eastern Automobile member Ryan Poel, presdient Kevin Raedel and secretary Kate Pohlner are ready for another weekend of high-octane action at the Legend of the Lakes Hill Climb at the picturesque Valley Lakes venue. Picture: JAMES MURPHY

THE Legend of the Lakes Hill Climb kicks off today, with no shortage of interest as the weekend unfolds.

Around 60 drivers will push their cars to the limit today up the Valley Lakes hill, with Friday’s racing traditionally set down for older machinery.

That still remains, but extra South Eastern Automobile Club members will also participate before helping to run the meeting over the weekend.

That provides plenty of “local” interest, along with some fast runs up the hill.

From there the competition begins in earnest, as a full field of 140 drivers will look to claim the overall and class honours across the remaining two days.

Over the last few years there have been many draw cards in the event.

Previously Mount Gambier’s Peter Gazzard held the course record, with everyone trying to claim the mantle.

Two years ago a brash, young Dan Day arrived from Adelaide in a “wild” Subaru and while he did not claim the record, he won the weekend in dramatic style as he locked horns with the ever-present Kevin Mackrell.

Mackrell’s purple 260Z Datsun has wowed the crowds for many years with its loud V8 engine and hot pace, but Day won that year on his final run of the weekend.

Last year Day returned for another tilt at the course record, which he managed to claim with a blistering sub-50 second run.

But a lot of focus was on the flamboyant Irishman Frank Kelly.

Kelly brought his Ford Escort – dubbed Baby Blue – with a reputation for sideways action.

While Kelly said his Escort was set up for gravel rally competition, he certainly lived up to expectations as he provided plenty of excitement around the tight chicane at the top of the course.

Coincidentally it was also a year where Mackrell would have claimed the course record after going under Gazzard’s previous time, but Day put paid to that.

This year Day is back to attempt a three-peat, with a few more tweaks to his car.

He hopes wider tyres will help with extra grip and keep him ahead of the pack.

No doubt Mackrell will have something to say about that.

Some tweaks to the track could also allow a faster time, with the surface slightly wider through the esses.

But this year also brings another draw card in the form of Greg Gartner and his Ford Trophy Truck.

Gartner is well known to Limestone Coast motorsport fans and is sure to add to Kelly’s flamboyant style from last year.

He will run a series of demonstrations across the weekend and will certainly be a crowd pleaser.

SEAC president Kevin Raedel said he was happy to have Gartner attend.

“To have Greg come along was just for something different, to grow it as an event,” he said.

“I think he will be a big interest.”

Raedel said he expects Damian Brand to be one of the fastest “local” drivers, while the two-wheel-drives of Mick Argoon and Phil Wilson are sure to be on the pace in their respective category.

But the weekend is also about the chance for Limestone Coast motorsport fans to see some fast and exotic machinery in a closed course pushed to the limit.

The likes of Porsche 911s, and GT Falcons provide plenty of interest, along with custom built machinery such as a Mitsubishi Mirage which sports Evo 6 running gear.

“I think most people enjoy the old Falcons and cars like Mackrell’s,” Raedel said.

“They are noisy and have plenty of tyre smoke, but the four-wheel-drives are very fast up the hill.”

All in all it promises to be another big weekend of motorsport in what has become a must-do event for many competitors in the country.

The road leading into the Valley Lakes will be closed from 8am each day of the event, with buses running from Archery Park to the gate, then from the top of the course to the bottom and back up throughout the event.

Big screens top and bottom will provide extra viewing for spectators, with catering provided at both ends of the course.