Feature Mark Walker November 22, 2022 (Comments off) (448)

The most fun you can have for $30

Let’s face the facts, $30 doesn’t go very far in 2022. And in motorsport, it truly won’t get you much.

You could buy a one-day spectator ticket for a state-level circuit racing meet.

Or you could enter a khanacross.

We are indebted to Gadget Productions for the wonderful images and video that accompany this story – many thanks to Andy for providing them!

Back in July, I visited my first khanacross – a grass-track event contested at the Pakenham Auto Club’s grounds– and was immediately hooked, vowing to get out there and have a go.

That particular day started out wet, was cut short due to a storm, and subsequently it hasn’t stopped raining – with most venues catering to true grassroots motorsport in large tracts of Australia now under substantial water.

But as it transpires, there are alternatives out there where you can sink your teeth into motorsport on the absolute cheap.

If you’ve got a road car and a spare $30, you too can get amongst it, and have an absolute whale of a time.

The Event

Like many car clubs around the country, the Peugeot Car Club of Victoria dabbles in providing entry-level events, with an emphasis on fun and safety.

The venue for the occasion was the METEC Driver Training facility in Melbourne, which provides a variety of roads in a wide-open setting with precious few solid objects you could wrap yourself around.

As covered previously, a khanacross is like a big motorkhana – in the case of the Peugeot Club event, the day consisted of 16 short tarmac stages with various obstacles and challenges thrown into the mix.

Drilling that down further, there were three different test loops on the roads around the training centre and a motorkhana stage set up on a skid pan – each stage was run twice before lunch, with the various aspects essentially reversed in direction for the afternoon runs.

All of the stages were electronically timed with display boards at the end of each stage, with the standard rules in force for such events meaning you have to be at a standstill in the garages before and after each run, with penalties applied for markers knocked over and wrong directions taken.

With over 40 entries for the day, the field was split into four groups, which circulated around the various tasks, and with the activities running from around 10am to 2:30pm, it was a well-oiled machine.

A massive hat tip goes out to all of the volunteer officials who enthusiastically ensured things ran smoothly throughout – they forever remain the true legends of the sport, at all levels.

Warning: Vehicles in front of and behind you might be significantly faster than you…

Dollars and Cents

When I mentioned the entry fee was $30, that is all there is to it.

Want some better value? Kids aged 12 to 18 years were only charged $10 a pop, with the youngest entrant in attendance only 12.

The event did attract a grant from Motorsport Australia, but even if it were full-price, it would still be an affordable day out.

Obviously, there are other pre-requisite costs involved – you need to be a member of an affiliated car club, some of these are cheaper than others, or you can simply go with one that aligns with your interests or geography.

You also need a Motorsport Australia Speed Licence, which nowadays comes in at $130 for the year.

Safety kit is simple – you need an approved helmet that meets at least either the AS/NZS 1698 or ECE 22 criteria, essentially any reasonable motorcycle helmet, plus a fire extinguisher soundly mounted, which if you’re savvy, you can pick up for around $20.

Long sleeves, long pants and you’re kitted out, while the sum total of my pre-event prep focused on tyre pressures, cleaning, and a quick visual check around the car to ensure nothing was falling apart.

Weapon of Choice

The mixed bag that fronted for the day was perfectly diverse.

Topping the exotica was a Lotus Evora GT410, as fitted with a giant wing and a lot of mint-looking go-fast bits, through to a BMW M3, and a smattering of purpose-built clubmen.

There were caged-up rally cars too, with a number of competitors trailering their vehicles to the facility.

At the other end of the scale were a pair of lads from “Latino Heat Racing” in their Nissan Pulsar, above, who absolutely won the day by six laps if the objective was having fun.

Speaking of fun, the guy who campaigned his two-door Mitsubishi Pajero, below, is my new hero.

I thoroughly appreciate the misapplication of machinery, and this top-heavy beast was absolutely pushed to the limit. Brilliant.

When I acquired my Ford Focus a couple of years ago, it was never intended to be anything more than a tool to teleport me to the office and back – the emphasis on the Titanium model is more on leather seats rather than performance of any nature.

For Monash Freeway commuting, it is fitted with FoMoCo’s woeful automatic, which is disappointing at the best of times, and on a couple of occasions on Saturday, it truly played to form.

Engine-wise, it has absolutely nothing down low but is passable when it is up and running, however, it has to overcome throttle response akin to continental drift to achieve that level of competency.

But then there is the handling – and that is a department the car earns itself a smiley face stamp.

Relatively big fat 235/40R18 Pirellis provide way too much grip for a task like khanacrossing, even with the rear pressures ramped up, it was way over-tyred for the available power, even in the wet after lunch.

While completely stock as per the factory, looking at the pics from the motorkhana stage, it seemed particularly well-behaved without a lot of the body roll that many others experienced.

It was all very predictable, which is nice.

Textbook Inauspicious

I can’t speak for the reasons anyone else used to enter the event, but I wanted to have fun, figure out the capabilities of the car and myself, and simply experience what it was like to have a go.

I’ve worked in and around motorsport for the past 20-something years in a massive array of roles, and outside of some go karting, I’ve never exactly had a steer myself.

I don’t drive fast on the roads, and in my first run, it absolutely showed.

Starting with not having my head in the game, I was slow, the car was slow, and I’m fairly certain the one standing direction around that particular circuit, i.e. stay left of the cones, was broken when I absolutely went right of the cones.

A deadset rookie error, but that wasn’t embarrassing – that achievement was unlocked later in one of the motorkhanas when my comically flailing arms saw the horn cop an unintentional honk mid-corner.

Rich Energy CEO William Storey pre-emptively re-enacted the scene, above, so it happens to the best of us, I guess…

Elsewhere, in an effort to divert all available resources to propulsion, luxuries like the air con and the radio were switched off. Hell, the radio alone probably robs the engine of 20 per cent of its power.

That is, except for one run, which was accidently piloted from a cabin set at a crisp climate controlled 17 degrees… oops!

Knowing full well that I had to get myself to work this week, whenever there was a situation where having a big go would result in a wadded-up car, I drove well within my capabilities.

On one particular stage, the tarmac had partially collapsed in places and come apart in another – I definitely wasn’t in the running for any awards through there. Discretion hands down defeated valour.

As it transpires, there’s a good reason the Rally Retro Festival will once again be held at the venue in February…

Sign Me Up

Coming into the day, I had no real idea what to expect, but I drove away stoked.

I now know what my car is capable of, I mean, I never pushed it over the limit, but with the quantity of grip on hand, I’m now of the realisation that the limit is lofty.

Parallel to this, I know that my driving really came together as the day progressed, I became more confident, and I think my times came down incrementally.

I reckon I was reasonably smooth, but I need to work on where my hands sit on the wheel – if nothing else, I need to keep them off the bloody horn whilst motorkhanaing…

All told, I probably used more petrol getting there than was burned in the tests, and the only really out-of-character wear on the car was to the ABS module.

It’s nice to know it has been quietly waiting there over the past couple of years, just in case a khanacross were to break out.

The real revelation of the day was the motorkhana section.

I’ve seen multiple motorkhanas in my time, and as a spectator sport, it’s not something that ever overly excited me.

But behind the wheel, I am absolutely here for it.

After the morning session, the rather simple dry track layout was replaced by a trickier course with an artificially slick surface, and it was a genuine hoot – I will be back for more of that!

I’m sure with more tweaking of tyre pressures, a little bit of understeer could be dialled out of the car, but the Focus was right at home on the twisty twirlies, and it was rock solid in the wet.

A lot of the bigger, “faster” cars spent time backwards on the skid pan in the wet – ultimately, that hurt their times, but I’m certain they had a mega amount of fun doing it.

Another peak attraction was the people – I knew a handful of my fellow competitors, but even complete strangers were up for a chat – there was no ego to be seen anywhere, which was very much refreshing.

There are events like this all over the country on any given weekend – get your shopping trolley out and have a go, you won’t regret it.

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