Western Australians to watch at WRC final round, Rally Australia

pic: Subaru Australia

The final round of the World Rally Championship (WRC), the Kennards Hire Rally Australia in Coffs Harbour, starts on Thursday 16 November and finishes on Sunday 20 November.

Competitors will race the clock over 318 kilometres in 21 special stages in the final round of the WRC season.

While the WRC has already been won by M-Sport Ford’s Sebastien Ogier (France), the real battle to watch is in the CAMS Australian Rally Championship (ARC) with two Western Australians in the mix for title honours.

Eight Western Australians will line up on the Rally Australia start line, three drivers and five co-drivers.

Reigning Australian Rally Champion Bill Hayes will again be co-driver for Molly Taylor in a Production Rally Car class Subaru WRX STI. The duo has a 30-point lead and their sights firmly set on back-to-back ARC titles. There are several points permutations, however the most feasible scenario according to Subaru Australia is for Taylor and Hayes to finish top three across the three days and bag their second Championship.

“Half of recce is done and the stages are a lot dustier than we expected, however, this could play to our advantage as we’re in the ARC-only event so have a bigger gap to the car in front,” Hayes said.

“Our plan is the same as every rally – take each corner the best we can and move quickly to the next one! Obviously retaining the championship is and has been our priority all year so we will just concentrate on that and keep doing our own thing. We don’t have to win but we will be trying too,” Hayes said.

The closest contender to Taylor / Hayes is Nathan Quinn (NSW) who will have experienced WA co-driver Ben Searcy calling his notes in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX. With 30 points separating them, and 20 points up for grabs for the fastest each day (total 60), 17 points for second, 15 for third, and so forth, this will be a hot contest to watch.

Ben Searcy said he was feeling good and confident going into Rally Australia.

“We’re going to be a threat to Molly, Nathan can still win the championship. He’s a local and knows these roads like his backyard. The stages are looking very dry and dusty and they’ll be slippery if the anticipated rainfall comes on Saturday and Sunday. We have to win all heats and overall for Nathan to have a chance for the championship title. I can’t wait to race on these roads with him!” Searcy said.

The name Dean Herridge is synonymous with rallying in WA. But it’s been a while between drinks, eleven years in fact since Maximum Motorsport’s Dean Herridge tackled Rally Australia, the last being the final Perth edition in 2006.

In a new partnership, Sam Hill (NSW) will be calling the notes next to Dean in his Subaru WRX STI.

“Actually, we’re feeling pretty good and had a big day of recce today. I’m writing one hundred kilometres of pace notes, fresh, and it’s been a while since I’ve done that,” Dean said.

“I’m not sure what to expect really. We’ll set a good pace that we’re comfortable with and run with that and try to keep out of trouble. We’re not going to poodle around the stages, but we’ll try to minimise mistakes. WRC events are long and tough – I got a reminder of that today. But if it was easy, everyone would do it. The car is great and we’ll do the best we can, having fun along the way,” the 41-year-old father of three said.

Maximum Motorsport team mate John O’Dowd and regular co-driver Ken Sheil are ready for the massive opportunity presented in the CAMS Australian Rally Championship’s new-for-2017 category, ARC2. The division was created for teams who compete in their home ARC event and one other. After finishing fourth at the Lightforce Rally in South Australia, O’Dowd climbed two championship positions and now sits in sixth place, the highest-placed WA driver.

Father and son team Jason Lowther and Paul Lowther, 62, from Australind will contest their first WRC event in their Toyota Corolla.

“It has been a dream forever to compete in the pinnacle event of our sport and we’re feeling very excited to be part of Rally Oz. Our aim is to finish the event and have a great time doing it. Recce went well today. It’s the first time Dad and I have competed on pace notes, so it was a steep learning curve for both of us. We are looking forward to hitting the stages on Friday!” Jason, 38, said.

Adopted West Australian Mike Young will have compatriot Malcolm Read (NZ) co-driving in their Citroën DS3 R3.

“I’m feeling confident after our pre-event test, it was a good chance to get used to the new car and find a set up to suit the roads here in Coffs Harbour. To me, the roads are in good condition and it should be super fast, especially on Saturday where the roads are very wide and flowing. The goal is to be consistent over the rally and the main thing is to finish. A good result will be a bonus,” 24-year-old Mike said.

31 cars will contest the ARC class at Rally Australia, which starts on Friday with the first leg covering eight stages, across 113.42 competitive kilometres. Saturday’s Leg Two covers a further eight stages over 140.27 kilometres. The event wraps on Sunday afternoon after five more stages across 64.64 kilometres. Total competitive distance is 318.33 kilometres and 947.55 kilometres overall.