CAMS Australian Rally Championship contenders Molly Taylor and Nathan Quinn remain neck-and-neck in the race for the 2017 title after day one action at Kennards Hire Rally Australia.
With seven stages and 112 competitive kilometres completed, Coffs Coast Rally Team’s Quinn leads the three-day event by 40 seconds from Subaru do Motorsport’s Taylor. J-Sport’s Justin Hatton sits in third, two minutes off the lead.
Quinn and co-driver Ben Searcy put in a near-perfect performance to win four of the day’s seven stages.
“We did exactly what we needed to do today, we had to win,” Quinn said.
“I’m not sure we would have done that with Eli (Evans) there, he was very quick this morning and he will be back tomorrow, but we finished ahead of Molly, we just needed a few more people to fill the void.”
Not everything went to plan for the Coffs Coast local when he suffered a puncture on the day’s penultimate stage. Quinn dragged the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 11 kilometres on a flat tyre to finish the stage, the drama costing him over a minute and a half but not the outright lead.
“We came around a corner and there was a hump at the end of it, which was no worries, but we landed really hard after it and I’d say it’s either bent a rim or collapsed the tyre and it’s slowly started to go down,” explained Quinn.
“We had to drive it out about 11 kilometres on the rim which may have done a bit of adverse damage but means we only lost about a minute and a half so I think that was a good outcome. We still won the day.”
Taylor and co-driver Bill Hayes knew before the event they only needed a podium position to win back-to-back titles and the pair are on target to achieve the feat, holding down third outright for much of the day, before edging into second by day’s end.
Taylor and Hayes overcame intercom failure in stage two with some innovative hand signalling, the issue not upsetting their rhythm as they went on to post consistently fast stage times, topping the table on stage six.
“It’s been a bit of a challenging day, we had some issues and solved that and the afternoon was much better,” Taylor said.
“On stage two, just off the start line our intercom went and all I could hear was static and Bill trying to talk so we had some hand signals going which was quite amusing when we got to a tight corner because Bill was getting very animated in the left seat.
“We managed to swap to another intercom with about a quarter of the stage to go so it was a frustrating way to start the rally.”
Molly admits she is not entirely comfortable with the steady, consistent approach required this weekend.
“It’s an interesting position to be in, and a good one perhaps, but it’s different to how we normally approach rallies.
“But the car itself is awesome and we just need to do it justice now.”
In ARC2, Tony Sullens and co-driver Kaylie Newell looked to be cruising to the 4WD title as they held down second outright for most of the day, however a drop in oil pressure late in the day left them stranded roadside.
Craig Brooks and Steve Glenney, fresh off a podium finish at Lightforce Rally SA, also failed to finish the days’ second last stage, leaving West Australian John O’Dowd to take the ARC2 lead at the end of the first day.
It was a day of attrition with a number of other teams retiring – Eli Evans was fastest on the first stage in the Mini Cooper AP4 only to suffer power steering failure on the second stage. Andrew and Kirra Penny broke not one but two drive shafts on special stage three. Both will be aiming to rejoin tomorrow.
Rally action will head south of Coffs Harbour for day two of Kennards Hire Rally Australia tomorrow, with teams facing another seven stages and 139 competitive kilometres.
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2017 Rally Australia ARC end of day 1
1. QUINN/SEARCY 1:06:06.0
2. TAYLOR/HAYES 1:06:46.2 (+00:40.2)
3. HATTON/FISHER 1:08:15.7 (+02:09.7)
4. L.BATES/MOSCATT 1:08:37.7 (+02:31.7)
5. CLARKE/PRESTON 1:08:43.2 (+02:37.2)
6. YOUNG/READ 1:09:17.8 (+03:11.8)
7. DOWELL/deVAUS 1:12:10.9 (+06:04.9)
8. O’DOWD/SHEIL 1:12:16.0 (+06:10.0)
9. MORTON/BENSON 1:12:47.6 (+06:41.6)
10.KAPLAN/PENNEY 1:12:54.5 (+06:48.5)