THE 2017 ARB Eldee Easter Event has been run and won, with team Panasiuk taking top honours for the fourth year in a row. A seasoned campaigner, James Panasiuk just loves bringing his family along to Eldee Station each Easter.
“It’s a great family event,” he said. “Dad has fun, and the wife and kids have fun, too! This year’s event has a relaxed feel about it and it is very friendly... everyone makes you feel welcome.
“The event itself is awesome! I like it how they changed it a little bit [from previous years], and running some of the stages twice was great; you could almost recce on your first run and really go for it on the second,” enthused James, who was running a Mitsubishi NP Pajero.
There were 22 teams competing in 2017 and of those, 21 made it through to the end of the final stage with no serious mechanical issues. The one DNF was Team Popper, with driver Wayne damaging the bullbar on his dad’s Toyota Prado after completing just three driving stages. Father Ron Popper wasn’t too upset by the incident, commenting on how much fun he was having as a spectator. “Everyone’s having a ball,” he said. “The people, it’s just great. Everyone’s friendly and it’s great to be around like-minded people”.
THERE was a variety of challenging driving stages in 2017, and on the morning of Day 1 the teams competed on several courses set up in the soft sands of Eldee’s dry creek bed, including the ARB Mini Dakar, the Spotters Blind Man’s Run, the Cooper Tires Motorkhana, the Redarc Back and Forth, and the RFI Paddy Melon Challenge.
The ARB Mini Dakar consisted of a short, bunted course that ran across, in and out of the creek bed. The pairing of Matt and Renee Burns and their kids Harry (9) and Chayse (4) posted the fastest time on the stage in their NOTNSN (get it?) Ford Maverick. Despite this being their first time competing in the Easter Challenge, this wasn’t their first visit to Eldee – the Horsham couple got married at Eldee several years ago.
Taking the honours in the Spotters Blind Man’s Run was the pairing of Craig and Sarah Pender, competing in a Land Rover Defender with their kids Ebony (11), Jorja (8) and Hunter (6). The stage required drivers to be blindfolded, while co-drivers were charged with navigating them through a tricky, bunted course.
Despite a relatively low score on the Spotters Blind Man’s Run, Kurt and Dior Johnston, competing in a 100 Series Land Cruiser, could hardly stop laughing after their drive through the Blind Man’s Run. “We’re usually hopeless at this one,” said Dior. “But this year we were pretty good. We didn’t even argue!” Their kids Tempe (6) and Seeley (4) didn’t look so convinced.
The Cooper Tires Motorkhana was a quick run through a sandy course, and again Matt and Renee Burns posted the fastest time. Ash and Maree Berry, with son Samuel (11), came home in second in their Toyota 100 Series Land Cruiser, followed by Matt and Rhianna Sheridan in their 76 Series Cruiser, with kids Bailey (10) and Darcy (7) in tow.
The Redarc Back and Forth tested teams’ abilities to reverse into a small box, and it was taken out by the father and son pairing of David and Chris Skinner, who had made the journey to Eldee from Aldinga Beach in South Australia in a Toyota 4Runner. Their mission for the weekend was to beat their mate Jamie [Panasiuk]. “At least try to beat Jamie,” laughed the pair.
It was Jamie Panasiuk, however, who triumphed in the RFI Paddy Melon Challenge, his wife expertly placing the small fruits atop poles around the course, before retrieving them and throwing them into a bucket at the finish line from the passenger window of the family’s NP Pajero.
Proving that consistency is the key to success in any off-road event, James Panasiuk and family took out two of the three Saturday afternoon stages as well (the ARB Broken Hill Swag Roll and Setup, and the Hema Outback Navigation Challenge), while placing second in the other (the Mannell Motors Stump Up).
The ARB Broken Hill Swag Roll and Setup required two members from each team to set up an ARB swag, jump in, get out and roll it up again, all while being cheered on by their families, sledged by their competitors and shouted at by an extremely vocal crowd of onlookers.
The Hema Outback Navigation Challenge required teams to navigate to a series of checkpoints around Eldee Station and find clues to crack a secret code. Bonus points were awarded for grabbing a fun family selfie at the Eldee sign at the entrance to the property.
The Mannell Motors Stump Up was a test of driving skill that required drivers to place a front tyre atop a post and then stop the vehicle, before backing off and doing the same with the opposite front wheel.
At the end of the day’s stages, Eldee’s Stephen Schmidt led competitors across the Mundi Mundi Plains and up a challenging rocky climb, high into the Barrier Ranges. Overlooking the station below them, competitors and their families mingled in a relaxed atmosphere, feasting on a tasty barbecue dinner while the sun dropped below the western horizon to put on a spectacular light show.
EASTER Sunday kicked off with the Eldee Station Easter Egg Hunt, ensuring all the kids got their fill of chocolate first thing in the morning before they were back in their parents’ 4WDs, taking on more timed driving stages including the ARB Penrith Sheepyard Shenanigans and the Oricom All Terrain Challenge.
Two vehicles at a time tackled the ARB Penrith Sheepyard Challenge, racing through parallel courses within Eldee’s sheepyards, with a series of gates that had to be opened and closed by the navigators. This event not only tested the skills of the drivers, but also the stamina of the navigators, all while being shouted at by the kids from within their vehicles and fellow competitors lining the course. The Cobar pairing of Luke Taylor and Sandy Wildman, with kids Zoe (10) and Summah (6), took out the stage in their Nissan Y62 Patrol; this was their third appearance at the ARB Eldee Easter Event and they commented that it had an even friendlier and more relaxed feel to it than in previous years.
The Oricom All Terrain Challenge was the event’s final timed driving stage, and it involved competitors driving through Eldee’s creek, up a rocky track, turning around and returning to the start point. The Panasiuk team fittingly took out this final stage on their way to another well-deserved event victory.
Before the prize presentations on Sunday afternoon, there were still a couple of very important activities. The kids burnt off the morning’s chocolate calories in a jumping castle, before taking on the challenging Hobby HQ Remote Control Car Mini Rally. They then had a crack at the Shimano Sharp Shooter casting event, the prize for which was a brand new ARB 60L Fridge Freezer.
Photographer Michael Ellem from Offroad Images had earlier enlisted the services of several junior track builders to help him create a challenging RC course, over which competitors (ranging in age from just three years old to early teens) tackled obstacles such as Chook Rock, Bilby’s Tunnel, Wraith Pass, Rabbit’s Crossing and Air Locker Hill. To even out the playing field, at the end of the event a random time was drawn from a hat, and the kids whose times were closest to it took home the goodies, which included some fabulous remote control prizes supplied by The Hobby Headquarters.
The top three place-getters at the end of the of the ARB Eldee Easter Event 2017 were then announced, with Kurt and Dior Johnston in third, David and Chris Skinner in second and, of course, James Panasiuk and family in first. They were loaded up with some fantastic prizes from the event sponsors, which had a total value somewhere in the vicinity of $20,000.
After all of the prizes were awarded, Eldee Station’s Naomi Schmidt then took to the stage. “I’d like to thank you all for travelling here and making it a great weekend, and I’d like to thank all the sponsors who make things go very smoothly,” she said. “I hope you’ve all had a really good time, and I hope to see you all again next year.”
With the completion of another very successful Easter weekend at Eldee, hosts Naomi and Stephen Schmidt can now look forward to next year’s ARB Eldee Easter Event, with naming-rights sponsor ARB confirming its continued support into the future.
“Eldee can count on ARB’s support so long as the competitors have a great time,” said ARB Sales and Marketing Manager, Matthew Frost. “So I’d like to pledge ARB’s support as naming rights sponsor for next year’s event.”
Despite James Panasiuk’s attacking driving style, his almost-standard Mitsubishi NP Pajero came out unscathed. In fact, all of the competitors’ vehicles presented well on Monday morning, ready for their long drives home after another hugely successful and fun-packed ARB Eldee Easter Event.
ARB AT ELDEE
ARB’s Sales and Marketing Manager, Matt Frost – a keen four-wheel driver and family man – once again made the journey to Eldee Station for an Easter getaway with his family.
“This is ARB’s sixth year as a sponsor and my fifth year coming up here,” said Matt. “With any of these sorts of events, our primary motivation is the fact that this is what our customers like to come out here and do with their spare time, so effectively we see this as a means of supporting our customers, to get out and about and have a bit of fun in their four-wheel drives.
“This particular event has a very strong family emphasis, and that’s what makes it particularly appealing to us as well, to see so many young kids coming here and having an absolutely cracking time.
“The event itself I think is a really good balance between having a competitive spirit and a variety of challenges, but at the same time not being the sort of thing that in any way, shape or form is dangerous, and it’s not the sort of event where people are going to break their vehicles… providing they drive sensibly. So it’s just an all ’round great, family-orientated off-road event.
“At the end of the day, most of our customers are buying a 4WD because it gives them a much greater sense of freedom than a standard vehicle and it really does allow them to get out and explore remote parts of Australia, and in the case of a vehicle that’s been set up properly, it allows them to do that in complete confidence and safety.”