2019 RSEA Safety Motorsport Australia Rally Champion (ARC) Harry Bates has clinched his first career FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) point, finishing 10th at Rally New Zealand over the weekend.
Bates and co-driver John McCarthy enjoyed two stage wins in the WRC2 class across the weekend, in what was a positive debut for the Australian pairing. The current ARC leaders ended the rally fourth in class.
Piloting a the Skoda Fabia Evo 2 R5 as a one-off challenge in the WRC, Bates put many months worth into practice across 276 competitive kilometres against talented locals and WRC regulars.
Thursday’s Shakedown and opening Super Special Stage was the first occasion Bates and McCarthy could set a benchmark alongside their WRC2 counterparts, finishing merely seconds behind eventual rally winner Hayden Paddon and Supercars star Shane van Gisbergen.
Friday’s group of stages saw a couple of hiccups for the Canberran early, with a rear right puncture resulting in a significant amount of time lost – ultimately finishing the day almost three minutes behind WRC2 leader Paddon.
“Honestly one of the toughest days of rally we have had,” Bates said on social media.
“We had a good morning and despite a spin, we were sitting in third place. The afternoon became a disaster pretty quickly with a combination of severe tyre wear and a puncture losing us over two minutes.
“Hoping to turn our fortunes around and show what we are actually capable of.”
Six stages were held on the Saturday session, with the opening stage also proving difficult as Bates narrowly avoided a telegraph pole after sliding wide on a corner.
Although this proved to be a turning point, as Bates consistently placed in the top three throughout the middle stages before eventually going fastest for WRC2 on SS11.
“Our first WRC2 stage win on SS11 and much better feeling with the car in general this afternoon,” Bates said.
“It’s frustrating that it took us this long to find a rhythm but also pleased to still be fighting in what has become a rally of attrition.”
Some positive performances followed again on Sunday, including victory in the second Whitford Forest run, meant Bates would hold on to fourth in the WRC2 overall standings and tenth across the WRC proper.
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Aussie pairing Luke Anear and co-driver Andy Sarandis also competed in the WRC2 class in their Ford Fiesta R5, claiming seventh place in WRC2 and 14th overall.
The duo stunned the field though, with their first pass on Sunday’s Jack’s Ridge pass seeing the pair fly high over a jump.
Three-time Motorsport Australia Rally Champion co-driver Glen Weston was also in the thick of the fight, continuing his partnership calling the notes for two-time Supercars Champion Shane van Gisbergen after the ARC season opening Netier National Capital Rally.
van Gisbergen and Weston enjoyed their first WRC2 podium, finishing third in class behind Polish WRC2 crews Kajetan Kajetanowicz and Maciej Szczepaniak.
The pairing were unable to win any stages across the weekend in the Supercheap Auto Skoda Fabia R5, but were still able to finish third in the class with consistent results throughout.
WRC2 Rally New Zealand winners Paddon and co-driver John Kennard will continue the Trans-Tasman rivalry, when they compete on Australia soil for the ARC and FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship finale at the Supercheap Auto Coffs Coast Rally this November.
The FIA World Rally Championship will head to Spain for the penultimate round of the 2022 season on the 20-23 October.