By Casey Neill
AN AVONSLEIGH woman has taken inspiration from tragedy and triumphed over mounting obstacles to taste car rally success.
Cathy Rainer and Upper Ferntree Gully’s Kimberley Barson took out third place in Canberra’s Rallye des Femmes on 5 December.
Both are now hungry for victory in the 2010 Victorian rally season, which kicked off last weekend (20 February).
Driver Barson, 28, said competing outside Victoria was challenging – particularly the surfaces.
“I was not expecting just how rough they were,” she said.
Co-driver Rainer, 23, said the pair had plenty against them. They were racing interstate for the first time on roads they’d never even seen before, had never driven together, were in a new car and had co-driving notes in an unfamiliar format.
“We were learning the whole way through,” she said.
The pair came together for the event because Barson’s regular co-driver Sandra Cuttle was unavailable.
Heading into the race they were aiming for a top 10 finish, but thought third was out of reach.
“It was quite unexpected actually because we knew there were quite a few quick women,” Rainer said.
“We were setting really quick times all day and settling ourselves into it, not trying too hard, just getting familiar with how we both worked in the car.”
“Suddenly we got to the end and we’d done it.”
Rainer said she was always destined to compete in a motor sport.
“It runs in the family, unfortunately,” she said.
“It’s a genetic condition, I’m told.”
Her father Phil was a rally driver in the 1970s.
“I just kind of fell into it,” she said.
“He actually left the sport when I was born, but he always had paper clippings.
“I was flicking through it going ‘this is pretty cool, I’d like to give this a go’.”
At age 18 Rainer encouraged her dad to let her buy and build a car.
“That was really good because it gave me the mechanical skills and a whole different field of knowledge that I’d never been into,” she said.
“He was encouraging because it creates a respect for driving and car handling that young people forget about these days.”
Rainer put her 1977 LB Lancer to the test in a few events and “did ok”.
“I learnt a whole lot about not finishing events,” she said.
She then lost a friend, Maya White, to cancer.
“She was one of those people that was very much ‘give everything a go, make the most out of life’, and it made me think about things a little bit more,” she said.
“I was kind of inspired to try a bit of everything, so I jumped in.”
Rainer joined driver James Elliot in 2007 for the Victorian Rally Championship. They finished 16th as novices in a field of 47.
“We surprised everyone,” she said.
They continued to race together until they wrote off their car in East Gippsland last May.
Rainer said they’d had mechanical problems all day but were placed 13th outright.
“We were a bit overcommitted and a bit ambitious,” she said.
“Hindsight would have told us that we’d already spun twice in the two previous stages so to back off would be a good idea.”
“But no, we kept going.”
Their car hit a rut in the road approaching a corner, hit a bank, fell down a hill and landed upside down.
Elliot hit his head on the roll cage and suffered a minor eye injury but they were otherwise unscathed.
Rainer said it was camaraderie that has kept her in motor sport.
“I think it’s the people more than the sport itself,” she said.
“You look forward to waiting on the start line and chatting to everyone, and telling tall tales.”
This season she’ll again race with Nar Nar Goon based Gunnawyn Motorsport.
The team will field three cars. Rainer will ride with Daniel Carney, Stuart Diggins and John Carney.
Cuttle will again partner Barson.
By Casey Neill