The Experts was held on 30 June. Jeff Beaumont tells the story:
VRC Round 4 – 1973 LCCA Experts Trial
The most significant story of the 1973 VRC series was the withdrawal of Renault Australia’s R12 Gordini from the series. After the first three rounds, Bob Watson and Jeff Beaumont were leading this year’s Victorian Championship but were now without a rally car!
They had the points, who had a car?
Fortunately Harry Firth came to the rescue, having the mighty HDT Kingswood sitting in his Auburn workshop. It had been run by Peter Brock in the recent Hattah off-road event, but was basically ready to run. So the deal was done.
In some respects this was the last of the “traditional” Experts Trials where most of the field would become bogged or lost at some point. Relatively benign weather in the following four years saw the event morph into a largely navigational challenge.
In 1973, torrential rain immediately before the event created havoc, and ultimately just a handful of crews got to the Kilmore Roadhouse finish within their late running time limit. In fact no crew correctly completed the entire course as specified.
As was commonplace at the time, the event started in Melbourne, in this case at the Light Car Clubrooms in Roy Street, with an assembly stage to the start proper at Beveridge. Crews headed out of Melbourne with great trepidation, as the wet weather prior to the event promised a challenging night ahead. Many already fitted chains to two spare wheels, ready to swap them onto the car when the going became tough, which would be sooner than most expected.
From the start proper just west of Beveridge on the Old Sydney Road, the route quickly headed north west through the deep ford at Darraweit Guim and onto swampy grassy lanes skirting Kilmore. Scores mounted rapidly as car after car succumbed to the boggy stretches. Cars actually banged into each other whilst attempting to traverse the narrow boggy tracks.
A slippery capeweed covered hill west of Pyalong had cars spread across the landscape, many fitting chains to try to extricate themselves.
The route then headed into the forests around Costerfield with some tricky navigation before the division break at Heathcote.
At the end of the first Division Philip / Bonhomme and Watson / Beaumont had moved out to a 30 minute gap over the rest of the field.
The second Division began with an attempted crossing of the swollen Wild Duck Creek. Many chose to turn back and detour around the nasty ford, while those who persisted had water well over the bonnet. Fortunately no-one was washed away!
The route then headed west to some more boggy laneways south of Sutton Grange. Bob Watson bogged badly, having to winch out the heavy Kingswood and tearing down fence post after fence post, finally achieving a solid anchor off a stout tree. Many others were bogged for hours, and those with chains just became more deeply bogged with precious little to winch off.
This allowed Philip / Bonhomme to take over the lead, until they bogged the XU-1 in a paddock near Axe Creek, a situation from which they were unable to recover. Most crews elected to take a WD penalty, rather than risk the treacherous Axe Creek and its surrounds.
Some confusion reigned in the Knowsley Forest where Harrowfield / Hodge were one of the few crews to get the control from the right direction. The WD penalties were ultimately deleted and Harrowfield/Hodge promptly retired on the next section.
The route then headed back into the forests between Redcastle and Graytown, then south through what is now the Puckapunyal training area. With most crews low of late running time. only a handful of crews even attempted these sections.
On the run home to Kilmore, thick fog created a further challenge, as crews desperately tried to stay within the seemingly lenient 120 minutes of late running time.
The Experts had certainly lived up to its reputation!
This strong victory gave Watson / Beaumont a very handy lead in the Championship.