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Champions... A Decade in Review – 2011 Part 1
Tuesday, 12 May 2020
Source: Toby Cooper for
Photographer: Daniel (Boof) Ziembinski

With the current COVID-19 worldwide pandemic putting our everyday lives on hold, it is anyone’s guess as to when we will return to normality. Whilst we eagerly await our return to the track in 2020, I have turned back the clock in reviewing the past decade of the Australian Off Road Championship and how the legends were made.

2011 - Fantastic Fellows Strikes Again

April - Hyden

After a 7 month hiatus, the 2011 Australian Off Road Championship kicked into gear on a perfect Easter weekend with the running of the Hyden 450. The best of the best once again found themselves spearheading their AORC campaigns at Smithy’s Place in the Western Australian wheat belt with 66 teams vying for an early advantage in the title race.

Local star Travis Robinson with Paul Currie undertaking the navigating duties in the #13 Outerbounds Racing Jimco were the first to make a mark with a dominant prologue run, before falling to second place by the smallest of margins at the completion of the top 10 shootout, thanks to a remarkable lap by Dave Fellows and Mark Bergamin #1 – the scene was set early in 2011.

The Peter Kittle Motorsports Jimco of Fellows left the line first and it wasn’t long until the reigning Australian Champions had surrendered the lead to Travis Robinson #13 on track. The Outerbounds Racing pilot looked well on track for a maiden AORC victory until heartbreak struck on the last lap after a gigantic battle up front; a broken axle handing back-to-back Hyden 450 titles to Fellows and Bergamin #1 in extreme conditions.

After a mechanical mishap in the prologue, father and son duo and five times AORC Champions Shannon and Ian Rentsch #33 in their SR Jimco tore through the pack, storming from 11th on the grid to a second outright finish – over 5 minutes adrift of Fellows. Sydney’s single seat Jimco star Brad Prout #3 returned to Hyden in style rounding out the outright podium after a consistent drive.

Despite a flat tyre, Danny Auricht #2 returned to the track after his horror Pines accident, placing his V8 True Build Racing Jimco into fourth position on his birthday.  Victorian Aaron James #128 roared his Razorback into fifth outright; finishing the best of the Prolite competitors in a flawless display.

As the heavens opened up in a dramatic conclusion to the event, South Australian Wes Cowie #124 was cruising until a roll over in the final moments saw them settle for sixth. Queensland’s Tony Fehlaber #138 was also super impressive, rounding out the Prolite class podium in seventh outright.

Other notables included the introduction of Queensland’s Clayton Chapman #871 to the Extreme 4WD category; ninth outright and a huge class win their reward in the team’s Pajero. Darryl Smith #201 and Chris Western #401 experienced their own issues, though held on for respective class wins.

DNFS – Hayden Bentley #18 in his new Racer Engineering Aussie Special had a soft roll over early in proceedings; Buddy Crowe #4 driveline issues; Wayne Bannan #64 sat in fourth at the half way mark, however was unable to continue due to a broken shift cable; despite a big charge early on lap 3, Beau Robinson #85 bowed out early to alternator dramas whilst in third place.

Hyden 2011 also saw a new comer to the sport, a young man by the name of Jack Rhodes #119, sporting the ex SR Chenowth Millennium; a broken output flange on the start line halted his run, although Rhodes would quickly become a name for the future.

**Prior to Round 2 of the championship, the Griffith Off Road Club cancelled their 2011 event leaving CAMS and the commission to find a replacement. Baroota came with a quick response, filling the spot in July with the inaugural Flinders 450.

June - Finke
The dream of four in a row King of the Desert titles got off to the perfect start for Peter Kittle Motorsport‘s Dave Fellows and Mark Bergamin #1 in the team’s Toyota powered Jimco clocking in a precision prologue run on Saturday, securing another pole position. Danny Auricht #2 finished 2 seconds adrift in second, ahead of Shannon Rentsch #33 in third.

Travis Robinson #13 and Beau Robinson #85 once again found themselves in the mix with fan favourite Greg Gartner #410 poised to make some noise out of position 10.

2010 runner-up Brad Gallard #454 was a notable non finisher with a misfire, along with Victorian Justin Anderson #75 engine fire and Wayne Bannan #64 due to a broken flex plate.

Courtesy of Brad Gallards mammoth second outright at Finke the year prior, all the hype leading into the great race was centred on the truck v buggy battle. Many predicted the 2011 edition would see a tin top breakthrough for the first time, and once Sunday got underway the action down the Old Ghan Railway was fierce! West Aussie Travis Robinson #13 continued on with his ferocious pace up front from the opening round flying into Finke first on an eventful opening day which saw an above attrition rate with only three of the top ten starters finishing in the top ten at the Finke end.

Gallard #454 was once again super impressive crossing a minute back in second; Geoff Roe #403 was the mover of the day; starting out of P27, Roe attacked the melon holes with no fear crossing in third place, finishing narrowly ahead of the hard charging Greg Gartner #410 and the first of the Prolite competitors Aaron James #128 in fifth.

Young gun Jack Rhodes #119 was another who made a huge leap up the standings on Day 1 from 26th into sixth despite a mid-air roll after clipping an embankment; quickly writing his name in the Finke sand. Amongst the big outs on day 1 included Danny Auricht #2 gearbox failure, Glenn Owen #30 engine, and Beau Robinson #85, whilst Dave Fellows #1 and Shannon Rentsch #33 experienced issues though completed the 226kms.

Despite a heroic drive by Dave Fellows on the return leg to Alice leaving him in ninth outright, Monday the 13th June 2011 will always be remembered as the day Greg Gartner and Jamie Jennings #410 drove their Ford F150 Trophy Truck into the Finke history books.

The South Australian crew outlasted the rest, overtaking Roe prior the Bundooma checkpoint and was never headed from there, becoming the first Tin Top to win the gruelling event. Gartner finished 7 minutes ahead of Peter Kittle Motor Sports’ Andrew and Matthew Kittle #14; a mammoth effort by the brothers in their first time together at Finke.

A minute adrift from the Kittles in third position was the local crew of Greg Hicks and Shane Braitling #123; a warm reward for extreme consistency over the return trip which caught plenty off guard. Mathew Coleman #55 in the Alpha netted alongside Buddy Crowe all weekend #4, the two started out of Finke in ninth and tenth and made it into Alice Springs in fourth and fifth outright – remarkably only 20 seconds separated the two crews.

Sunday’s top three of Outer Bounds Racing’s Travis Robinson #13 – drive failure, Brad Gallard #454 – blown diff and Geoff Roe #403 – lost wheel, all became casualties on the run home alongside Aaron James #128 and Jack Rhodes #119, providing a clear run home for the ever entertaining Gartner to claim the silverware.

Colin Hunter #801 drove the wheels off his Dodge Dokota V6, literally, for an Extreme 4WD class victory; Darryl Smith #201 was superb once again in his Alumni Craft dominating the Super 1650 category, whilst Townsville’s Geoff Pickering #701, South Australian Murray England #333 and Victorian Craig Weaire #532 took class honours.

Check back at noon tomorrow for Champions... A Decade in Review – 2011 Part 2