|Batten Father and Son Team take Second
Father and son team Mike and Paul Batten in their early classic Volvo PV544 finished second in the Targa Tasmania Shannons Early Classic Competition. The team had a thrilling battle with eventual winners John Siddins and Darren Ferguson, dropping their lead with three stages to go after a suspension failure.
Mike and Paul shared the driving in this event, the inaugural running of the handicap competition for cars manufactured from 1945 to 1971, with Mike driving the first two days and Paul driving the final three. A spirited drive by Paul in the Prologue saw the Volvo qualify for a road position amongst fast machinery such as Subaru STi’s, Porsches, Skyline GTR’s, and Mitsubishi Evo’s.
Mike took to the wheel on Day 1, and as in previous years surprised many of the surrounding cars with the pace of the 1961 model Volvo, and despite driving conservatively was placed 3rd Early Classic at the completion of the day’s stages.
The Navigator’s seat was something different for Paul. “I really enjoyed the challenges navigating throws at you” said Paul. “It was quite tricky at times, everything seems much faster when you are holding a book. But I didn’t fall off the notes, so it can’t be that difficult.”
Day 2 saw the team loop out to the East Coast, taking in famous stages like “The Sideling” and “Weldborough Pass”. Some determined driving saw Mike hold his 3rd position following John Siddins in the Datsun 240Z and John Ullrich in the Jensen CV8. “I enjoyed the challenge driving the tight and mountainous roads. Unfortunately I gave away too much time to Siddins and Ullrich, finishing the day 88 seconds behind the leader. However I was confident Paul was capable in hitting back driving for the next 3 days. I now had to call our notes well and not look up when the speeds approaching corners got too high for my 59 year old nerves” said Mike.
The duo swapped seats for Day 3, Paul taking over the steering duties pulling back 20 seconds on the leaders. “The team orders for the day were for Paul to start slower than my pace and slowly build up. Things didn’t exactly go to plan with Paul winning the first stage and placing 10th Outright out of the 89 Early and Late Classics. All in all we were happy with the day and we knew that Day 4 was the longest day where we could pull back some time.” Mike commented.
Targa’s penultimate Day 4 with Paul at the wheel was the run down the West Coast to Strahan taking in famous stages like Cethana, Gunns Plains, South Riana, and Hellyer Gorge. A “storming drive” saw the team take back over a minute from Siddins to lead the Early Classic Competition by 10 seconds. The father and son team even managed an Outright Classic equal stage win on the final high speed Reece Dam stage.
“I worked fairly hard on the car setup early this morning, and got the car to a point I was fairly happy with by changing the damper settings” said Paul whose day job at Prodrive as a chassis test engineer involves plenty of driving. “I really loved today’s stages. Amazing roads, and to be able to drive over crests on the wrong side of the road legally is superb fun!” he added.
“So long as the old girl holds together we will be right!” were Paul’s words leading into the final leg Day 5. Unfortunately for the team these words were to prove prophetic, after increasing their lead over the morning’s stages, disaster was to strike in the event’s longest stage Mt Arrowsmith. “The Panhard rod anchor bracket to the diff banjo let go with 17km’s to go in the stage” said Mike “We were on course to clean the stage and lost 43 seconds plus more importantly the lead in our battle with Siddins”.
“It was disappointing for both of us. Particularly for Dad who has campaigned the car 10 times and narrowly missed a win on a few occasions. But things like this are part of the challenge with classic cars, and part of what makes it so special to do well” Paul added. “The rallying I am used to is more about results, but the classic competition here at Targa is about unique machinery being presented well and driven hard like they were in their heyday”.
A miracle fix by the service crew manager and car builder Kari Dirickx from Seldom Seen Vehicles and Engineering was performed at the following service, a wheel stud being used to anchor the Panhard rod to what was left of the bracket after some frantic drilling and filing. The team bounced straight back to narrowly win the final two stages, testament to the job performed under pressure. “There was some quick thinking in service to come up with that fix” said Paul. “Kari showed me what he had done and I had confidence in the job to push again. We weren’t sure how much time we had lost, so I kept the pressure on in-case Siddins had a problem”.
It wasn’t to be and the team finished second 26 seconds behind Siddins, with Steve Coad in his spectacular Monaro 3rd. “Paul did a great job. He is extremely fast, but always drove safely and looked after the car which is critical on a 5 day event like Targa”, Mike commented.
The Team would like to thank their partners: Kari and Bec Dirickx as well as James and Jeremiah from Seldom Seen Vehicles and Engineering. Russell from Stuckey Tyre Service, the Dunlop R1’s were a big step forward from the tyres we have used in previous years. Gary Comerford from VOLPRO Performance Engines who produces some of the best 4 cylinder classic rally motors around, and helped out servicing with his sons Ashley, Drew and Justin”.
After the rally it was announced that Kari’s wife Bec was having twins. “Kari obviously isn’t just good at fixing Panhard rods” said an anonymous observer.