The start of the 2018 CAMS Australian Rally Championship saw a new breed of machines take to special stages around Australia, with the battle between AP4s and R5s adding more excitement to the national rally stage.
While the AP4 of Harry Bates and John McCarthy looked like the early title favourite after a win at The Courier Eureka Rally in the opening round, the car’s time at the top was short lived thanks to the debut of the R5 Skoda Fabia – the first time a R5 spec rally car has lined up in the ARC.
The R5 Skoda burst onto the ARC scene at the Make Smoking History Forest Rally in Western Australia with not one, but two Fabias gracing the entry list for round two.
The two drivers to get behind the wheel of the Czech-manufactured car were Adrian Coppin and Eli Evans.
Coppin made the switch to the R5 following after initially piloting a Peugeot 208 AP4 in Ballarat.
It was a slow start off the blocks for Coppin and co-driver Erin Kelly in the new Skoda, with the Queensland drivers dropping down to ninth, before improving drastically for the next two rounds to post two runner-up finishes.
Evans and the Evans Motorsport team on the other hand had decided on a major rebuild to the Mini Cooper AP4 in an effort to increase reliability and outright speed, picking the Skoda as a suitable replacement.
The switch paid dividends immediately for Evans and co-driver Ben Searcy, with the pair putting on a dominant display in the west, winning both heats and claiming the bonus point for the most stage wins.
It didn’t stop there though, as the R5 Skoda Fabia pilots claimed the next two rounds in Canberra and Tasmania, the results setting up their successful charge at the 2018 title.
At Rally Australia, Contel Communications and Steve Glenney had to replace their trusty Subaru, opting for the Skoda Fabia R5 and just like the 2018 champion, the move paid off instantly with Glenney winning his first ARC round in 10 years.
The AP4 was, in its own right, very competitive throughout the championship, with Bates and McCarthy claiming BOTT Adelaide Hills Rally at the penultimate round.
The battle between AP4 and R5 is expected to continue on in 2019, with Harry Bates’ younger brother Lewis, confirming recently he will be competing in a Toyota Yaris AP4 next year with Toyota Gazoo Racing.
Will Evans return to his Mini AP4 to defend the title? And will more teams opt to use the Championship winning Skoda R5 in 2019? Time will tell.