All roads lead to Canberra for ARC opener

It’s been a long time coming, but the RSEA Safety Motorsport Australia Rally Championship (ARC) finally returns this weekend with the Netier National Capital Rally in Canberra.

Almost 20 months has gone by since Toyota Gazoo Racing Australia’s Harry Bates and John McCarthy sealed their maiden ARC title with an emphatic victory at the Adelaide Hills Rally.

Since then, quite a bit has changed.

A new naming right partners in RSEA Safety has come on board, along with a host of other companies to have thrown their support behind the ARC, a variety of new cups have been added, Hoosier Tires Australia is the new tyre supplier and entry lists are looking the healthiest they’ve been in years.

In another huge development for the sport, the event will also be broadcast on the screens of the Seven network, with 7plus hosting a live stream of the ARC’s new power stage on Sunday at 2pm AEST. A post-event highlights show will also be available on 7plus in the week following the event. As previously confirmed, Jess Dane and Dean Herridge will host all the action across the weekend.

Live results, video highlights, interviews and more will be available on the RSEA Safety Motorsport Australia Rally Championship’s social media channels and throughout the weekend.

As bushfires, COVID-19 and flooding prevented the best rally drivers from around Australia competing against each other for Championship points since September 2019, to say there is plenty of excitement surrounding the 2021 ARC season opener would be an understatement.

Out of the 49 crews entered in the Canberra based event, an impressive 32 will contest the ARC, which will see them tackle 158.63 competitive kilometres over 14 stages.

Eight of those stages will be run on Saturday’s first heat, with the total distance to be 97.37kms, while 61.26km will make up the event’s remaining six stages on Sunday – including the highly anticipated Hyles Short Power Stage to wrap up the rally.

The remaining 17 crews will compete in the other series taking place over the weekend with the Motorsport Australia NSW Rally Championship and East Coast Rally Series running a reduced portion of the event.

You can view the event’s most updated Itinerary in the Further Regulations here.

Heading into the round as the obvious event and title favourites will be Bates and McCarthy, who line up in their new Toyota GR Yaris, but there are still plenty of other drivers capable of providing a worthy challenge throughout the two-day event.

The reigning champions’ Toyota Gazoo Racing Australia teammates in Lewis Bates and Anthony McLoughlin in the second new GR Yaris AP4 are certain frontrunners with Lewis having shown no shortage of raw pace as of late, as well as being due for a breakout year.

Another Yaris to watch for is the same one that Bates and McCarthy steered to the 2019 title, albeit this time it’s Richie Dalton and Dale Moscatt who will pilot the Shamrock Haulage backed car.

Former Victorian champions Arron Windus and Daniel Brkic, 2017 ARC champion Nathan Quinn and Ray Winwood-Smith and AGI Rallysport Ford Fiesta R5 driver Luke Anear alongside Andy Sarandis are just some of the other notable names in a list of potential contenders that runs deep.

Unfortunately, one of the crews expecting to be towards the top end of the star-studded entry list in JJ Hatton and John Allen in the J Sport Hyundai i20 will not be participating after crashing during a test session on Thursday morning.

Click here to view the entry list.

While some of the drivers part of the top 15 seeded crews may not be confident about claiming outright honours, there would be little doubt in their minds about leaving the nation’s capital empty handed on Sunday night with the ARC’s new cups offering crews something extra to fight for.

Outside of the newly named Shamrock Haulage ARC 2WD Cup, the new classes crews will be battling it out for are the White Wolf Constructions Production Cup, ARC Junior Cup, ARC Classic Cup and ARC Teams Cup.

Another exciting prospect for the weekend will be the return of crowds to the sport with fans able to attend both the Kowen Rally Village and the Woden Service Park, outside the Abode Woden Hotel, for free.

There will be the opportunities to watch four stages from the Village on Saturday, as well as lots of food and entertainment for the whole family, while there will be multiple opportunities to visit the Service Park across both days.

Fans intending to attend the Kowen Rally Village located just outside the Kowen forest can do so for free but will need to register for a ticket for contract tracing purposes. Click here to obtain a ticket.

For all spectator information, click here to view the Spectator Guide.

The rally begins on Friday night with a special Rally show, before all stages are completed on Saturday and Sunday, including the live broadcast of the Power Stage at 2pm AEST on Sunday via 7plus.

The Netier National Capital Rally takes place in and around the forests of Canberra on 9-11 April.

Photos: Epic Sports Photography