Day One: Katherine – Vern Schuppan won the Le Mans 24-hour enduro in a Porsche 956, finished third in the Indianapolis 500, has won the Rothmans Formula 5000 championship – but until yesterday had never driven in an economy run. Or an Eco Challenge as organisers like to call them now.
“So, Mr Schuppan – how do you compare wining Le Mans with driving from Darwin to Katherine in a MINI Cooper D in 39-degree heat?”
He looks back with those steely, grey-blue eyes… “There’s no comparison,” he suggests after a lengthy pause. “Except in both events you get hot and sweaty…”
As it turns out, Schuppan is no mean driver when it comes to economy. Teamed with journalist Jaedene Hudson, he used 12.88 litres of diesel to do the 347 or so kilometres (3.72 litres per 100km), which was only 0.02 of a litre more than the best of the three Mini Ds in the event, driven by another journo, Bob Jennings with co-driver Toni Andreevski.
Third was another racing driver, Chris Smerdon, who is a member of the SA Motor Sports Board, and teamed with Andy Jones. They managed to gulp down about two litres more, but proudly claimed they were the second car into Darwin having been 14th out of the NT Parliament House gate at the off.
Andy has suggested some innovative methods of relating Chris’s right foot to another part of his anatomy to curb his pace.
Tomorrow the fleet heads to Tennant Creek (668km). The Weather forecast is the same. Bloody hot.
Day Two: A wise head in motor sport once reckoned that a driver’s biggest rivals were the others in the same team. Sometimes it has reached dizzyingly ridiculous heights of silliness where drivers don’t talk to each other, won’t travel together and generally behave like spoiled kiddies.
I once heard one famed driver say of another after a Le Mans 24-hour test: “He drives OK, but yuck! He leaves the seat all sweaty…” Damning indeed.
Well it’s not quite that bad in Team MINI although admittedly the seats are getting a bit sweaty. After all, on the run from Katherine to Tennant Creek the outside temperature hit 40.5-degrees, there was a head wind that felt like it came from the furnaces of hell and it was a seriously long haul of nine hours with an average speed set at 75km/h. Of course in the interests of competitiveness, no one turns on the air-conditioning.
Team MINI drivers watched the Tennant Creek refuelling pump like hawks. First in line was 1983 Le Mans 24 hour winner (no, not involved in the sweaty seat complaint) Vern Schuppan whose MINI Cooper D took in just 23.14 litres. He was driving with Sydney based Fairfax journalist Jaedene Hudson.
Next came former V8 Supercar driver and SA Motor Sport Board member Chris Smerdon, he of the previous day’s lead foot disease, with an improved 24.39 litres. He’s partnered by fellow SAMSB member Andy Jones, who’s had some experience in the oldtime Mobilgas Economy Runs.
The air turned chilly (despite the thermometer still registering 38 degrees) when the journo/PR car fronted up and took on board only 22.36 litres.
“Hmm,” ventured Schuppan to journalist Bob Jennings. “You’re a professional though….” Professional? Professional journalist maybe. “Well,” continued Schuppan you’ve done economy runs before and we others haven’t!”
Jennings thought about this. Well, he did several Total Oil Economy Runs back in the 1970s, the last in a CM Chrysler Valiant, which doesn’t really share much in common with a MINI Cooper D. But maybe that counts.
The rivalry will continue today with another long run, from Tennant Creek to Alice Springs. And the forecast is for continuing sweaty seat weather.
Fuel consumption today:
Source: Mini Australia