The Experts Trail was held on 22 July. Jeff Beaumont tells the story:
VRC Round 5 – 1978 LCCA Experts Trial
Portman and Runnalls defeat mud and leopards (tanks)
Geoff Portman / Ross Runnalls proved that they were the “experts” under severe conditions to win the Semperit Experts, held under the wettest conditions this season.
At the last minute the rally had to be substantially changed due to an armed holdup at Heathcote. Immediately before the rally, Victorian Police instructed the directors, Colin Pomroy and Stuart Lister, to avoid a significant area that was planned for the rally. So a last-minute reroute reduced the event from 350 to 200 kilometres. The event was then held entirely in the Puckapunyal Range area where the military had given assurances that all unexploded munitions had been removed!
The field of 50 cars started the rally adjacent to Tank Firing Range, supported by a large group of spectators. The short special daylight section saw Alex and Jan Fitcher quickest by a single second from Ian and Noel Richards. The remaining daylight sections looped around the Army Range in very, very wet conditions. Frank and Janine Kilfoyle were stopped by distributor problems in their Corolla.
Division end was located at a central control, where the leaders were Warwick Smith / Paul Paterson, Portman / Runnalls, Peter Corkran / Ian Ellis and Pierre Dalle / Ian Baldock, all covered by just a few points in the single figures.
Division two soon had navigators concentrating hard with numerous vias. The conditions were atrocious with frequent heavy rain showers, flooded roads and boggy tracks. At one point a track went through a creek that was so flooded that water came completely over car bonnets. Several cars needed to be rescued from there by army vehicles.
The last section, over 35 kms with 19 via points, certainly created havoc with many crews getting misplaced and receiving wrong direction entry into the final Control.
But Portman / Runnalls made an outstanding effort to be the only crew to clean the Section and achieve a well deserved victory.
A post event protest by Uttleymoore and Bond was initially dismissed but was upheld on appeal. This elevated Smith and Paterson to equal first and Uttleymoore and Bond to fourth.