This weekend’s Make Smoking History Forest Rally is shaping up to be a battle royale, with car swaps, event debuts, and new co-drivers providing unknown variables that could see any number of contenders vying for the win.
Round two of the CAMS Australian Rally Championship arrives in Western Australia this week, with action kicking off on the Busselton foreshore on Friday afternoon before Australia’s best rally teams head to the forests around the historic township of Nannup where they will contest 19 stages over two days.
A 59-strong field will line up for the event, which also hosts round two of the CAMS Onslow Contracting WA State Championship.
Leading the charge will be Toyota Genuine Parts’ Harry Bates. Fresh from a win at The Courier Eureka Rally in March, Bates will be first on the road with an unchanged line up of co-driver in John McCarthy and the Toyota Yaris AP4.
“It’s been a really strong event for us in the past, I managed to take my first ever heat win in WA in 2016,” Bates said.
“It’s an event that is a big challenge for a driver, you’ve got that unique ball-bearing surface… It’s always such a challenge but the roads are just really enjoyable and it’s a really well organised event and Busselton is a great place to visit too.”
In contrast, Tankformers Eli Evans has rolled the dice, making a late switch to run a Race Torque Engineering prepared Skoda Fabia R5, leaving the unfinished Mini Cooper AP4 on the east coast as it undergoes upgrades after his third place at round one of the ARC.
“My aim is to win the championship this year and by being here at round two, we remain in the race,” explains Evans.
He says the competition in the ARC this year is extremely competitive and the pace fast.
“Round one at Rally Eureka was the fastest I have driven to third place overall. It’s great to have stiff competition and gives you a more rewarding feeling if you manage to be on the top step at the end of the event.
“WA roads are extremely slippery by nature but have high average speeds, I enjoy fast rallies and we have been competitive here in the past. My plan is to stay aggressive and do the best I can.”
Others to join the ‘car swap’ bandwagon are Yes! Optus’ Adrian Coppin, who will also run a Race Torque Engineering Skoda Fabia R5 after competing in the Peugeot 208 AP4 at The Courier Eureka Rally, while Glen Raymond has temporarily traded his Mitsubishi Evo IX for a Subaru Impreza WRX STI.
By contrast, last year’s Forest Rally winner Subaru do Motorsport’s Molly Taylor has faith in the tried and tested package of her Les Walkden prepared Subaru WRX STI.
“This rally can be fairly brutal on cars, so the intrinsic strength of the WRX STI is an advantage that, as we proved last year, can work in our favour,” Taylor said.
Despite sitting in the co-driver’s seat at last year’s Forest Rally, Steve Glenney will draw on his extensive experience behind the wheel as he returns to the event as a driver, with new co-driver Andy Sarandis.
“It’s a great event,” Glenney says of the Forest Rally.
“It’s obviously a bit slipperier and so you spend a lot more time on the corners and judging your length of corners but [it’s] enjoyable.
“It’s a great part of the world to go to so I’m looking forward to it.”
Heading to the west for his first taste of the Forest Rally will be Lewis Bates, with co-driver Dale Moscatt, in the Toyota Corolla S2000. While it will be his first outing on the slippery forest roads, he has a wealth of advice from brother Harry and father Neal.
“Harry gave me his on-boards from last year, which really helps with getting familiar with the stages,” said Lewis.
Having spectated at the rally a few times, Lewis is relishing the challenge of what he says is a great event.
“I am very much looking forward to the big challenge of the unique and slippery road surface.
“Dad [Neal] and Harry have both given me great advice, obviously the main thing to concentrate on is staying on the swept line. It is also great to have Dale bringing so much valuable experience having done this event so many times.”
Nominations for ARC2 are confirmed, with WA locals Dylan King, Brad Markovic and Ross Dunkerton automatically contesting the class.
Glen Raymond, who placed second to Markovic in ARC2 in March, will use Forest Rally as his second and final chance to score points in ARC2. New South Welshman Haowen Chu has also nominated for ARC2 in his Ford Fiesta.
Harry Bates currently leads the CAMS ARC after one round, 13 points clear of Glenney and a further 12 points ahead of Evans. Lewis Bates and Taylor round out the top five.
The Make Smoking History Forest Rally action begins on Friday afternoon with a ceremonial start and two passes of the 2.7 kilometre super special stage at Barnard Park in Busselton before moving south to Nannup for heat one on Saturday and heat two on Sunday.
Bookmark rally.com.au for all the latest news, videos and results over the weekend.