ARC arrives in WA for massive Forest Rally

The Bosch Motorsport Australia Rally Championship (ARC) resumes this weekend with the highly anticipated Make Smoking History Forest Rally.

Serving as the second round of the 2023 ARC season, a huge field of national crews have made their way out west for the popular rally, which will run over the course of three days.

Awaiting the strong field of more than 34 ARC registered crews are 179 competitive kilometres across 17 stages, with the sprint format to see the event split into two heats – the first run over Friday night and Saturday, and the second on Sunday.

Harry Bates and Coral Taylor during Make Smoking History Forest Rally testing.
Photos: Dakar Press Team Australia

While the national entry list heading to Western Australia since the early 2000s is the biggest narrative for the weekend – there are plenty of other subplots to keep an eye on.

This year’s event also celebrates the 50th anniversary of the ARC’s first round in WA, and the intriguing battles that will undoubtedly take place amongst the multiple cups.

From the WA vs Tasmania State of Origin stoush in the White Wolf Constructions ARC Production Cup to the family-ties clash in the ARC Classic Cup, there are many entertaining battles all throughout the field.

Also adding to the drama is the big question of when Harry Bates can return to the winners’ list.

The 2019 ARC champion was unstoppable this time last year, however after going 10-in-a-row in June, Bates has been unable to replicate those results in his past four events since last season’s Adelaide Hills Rally and the title-deciding Coffs Coast Rally.

It was also a trying start in March’s season opener at Buckby Škoda Rally Launceston, Harry and new co-driver Coral Taylor will be looking to recreate that form from the first half of 2022.

Standing in his way will be Toyota Gazoo Racing Australia teammates Lewis Bates and Anthony McLoughlin, who lead the championship after Launceston.

Plenty of ARC campaigners are also looking to surpass the factory Toyota duo, including 2017 ARC Champion Nathan Quinn and Ray Winwood-Smith – who were fastest on Sunday of Rally Launceston aboard their Hyundai i20 G4.

Luke Anear and Malcolm Read, who enjoyed their first ARC career podium together, are also reunited with AGI Rallysport’s Ford Fiesta Rally2 after starting the season in a Skoda Fabia R5. Other notable outright R5/Rally2 entries include Tom Clarke and Ryan Preston, Troy Dowel and Bernie Webb, and WA star drivers John O’Dowd, Daniel Gonzalez, Alex Rullo and Peter Rullo – all of whom, are in top-spec cars.

View the entry list here.

Another notable element to the event is the Tasmanian contingent of Bodie Reading, Eddie Maguire, David Thompson and Steve Maguire, each of whom will be in contention for Production Cup honours as well as providing a serious challenge to outright results.

“We are certainly excited. You couldn’t pick an event further than WA for a Tasmanian, but it’s a special place to me as I used to live there 10 years ago, so it will be nice to go back there for motorsport,” Steve Maguire said.

“Obviously I will be hoping to have a crack at good times outright, but the main goal will be the White Wolf Constructions ARC Production Cup and I am excited to have Dale Moscatt as my co-driver.

“The locals will be fairly used to their roads there and it will be tricky – honestly, I am just excited to do some motorsport outside of Tassie.”

Daniel Gonzalez and Daymon Nicoli will be representing the large number of WA crews entered in the ARC this weekend.

Of course, the WA charge is just impressive with a number of crews taking the step up from state-level into national, including John O’Dowd and Gary Mills – the latter of whom was using this weekend as a bit of a test for a future ARC campaign.

“We are very excited and can’t wait to go up against the top drivers in the country,” Mills said.

“Honestly, I don’t think I have the capabilities or budget to match the top end crews like the Bates or Quinn, but if we can be there towards the top five in a few stages I will be very happy.

“The number one goal for us is to finish the event and get kilometres in but depending on how we go, it could potentially play a part in what I decide to do next year.”

While the likes of Mills, O’Dowd, Gonzalez and the Rullos will be representing the locals in the ARC, the Motorsport Australia WA Rally Championship (WARC) could be just as interesting.

All five drivers are just a few who are cross-entered in the ARC and WARC with 14 others to do both components, while a further 23 are solely entered in the state championship and another nine crews will contest the Clubman Masters & Clubman Cup Series.

The event will kick off on Friday night with four Super Special Stages at the Bunbury Speedway before the action resumes on Saturday with 113 kilometres run over eight stages rounding out Heat 1.

On Sunday, crews tackle 60 kilometres over five stages for Heat 2 on Sunday, which wraps up with the ARC crews running in the EROAD Power Stage at 2:15pm AWST.

Fans able to make the event will have plenty of options to view the cars via the designated spectator points, Rally Central or at the Bunbury Speedway on Friday night.

The 2023 Make Smoking History Forest Rally takes place in Bunbury and Nannup on 19-21 May