The CAMS Australian Rally Championship (ARC) roars back to life this weekend after a mid-season break, with Australia’s best rally teams heading to the Barossa Valley for Lightforce Rally SA, round four of the five-round ARC.
The enthralling battle between Toyota Genuine Parts’ Harry Bates and Subaru do Motorsport’s Molly Taylor is set to continue, the pair separated by only three points in the championship race; and Coffs Coast Rally Team’s Nathan Quinn is still well within striking distance, only 46 points shy of the lead.
Bates and co-driver John McCarthy will debut the new Toyota Yaris AP4 this weekend and will test the car for the first time on Friday morning.
Of the new car build, Bates said: “It was stressful to say the least. It has come together in the end but all at the last minute. Everyone at Neal Bates Motorsport has done an amazing job.
“A few people have said that we are crazy to debut a new car in the middle of the season but it has been a long time in the planning and we were always going to debut the Yaris AP4 as soon as it was ready.”
Bates said while the preparation for Lightforce Rally SA has been anything but normal, he will approach this event like any other.
“Yes, this rally will be a learning curve with the new car and getting used to left-hand-drive, but we will just approach it like any other rally; we will do recce, test the car on Friday and prepare for the event as usual.”
Taylor and co-driver Bill Hayes, running in the familiar WRX STi, will be looking to take advantage while Bates and McCarthy acquaint themselves with the new car.
“Les Walkden Rallying have had time to ensure the WRX STI is in peak form and we think our familiarity with the car puts us in a strong position going into South Australia,” Taylor said. “The pressure’s on Harry to maintain the top spot, so we’re keenly focused on winning all the one percenters that present over the course of a weekend and that can cumulatively mean a lot.”
Quinn, who welcomes Ben Searcy back to the co-driver’s seat in SA, is clear about his goals for the weekend.
“We are going to SA to get our championship back on track; we have a lot more work to do than Harry and Molly but with Harry in the new car, you never know,” Quinn said.
Quinn last competed at Lightforce Rally SA back in 2010 and finished second to Simon Evans.
“We might struggle with lack of experience on the SA roads but we did some fairly major work on the car in the break so we should be running on all cylinders, literally, this round.”
A highlight of Lightforce Rally SA will be the four night stages at the end of Saturday’s heat one. Both Taylor and Quinn are looking forward to the challenge.
“The night stages present a unique challenge compared to the rest of the season and probably require even greater precision in our paces notes. That’s where the value of recce can’t be discounted,” Taylor said.
“Those stages are super fast in places and there are a number of crests—which become blind crests at night—so you need to account for how things will appear at night versus in daylight.”
Quinn said: “I absolutely cannot wait for the night stages; from a spectator point of view and as a competitor, it should be a great spectacle.
“We very rarely get to do night stages; my eyes are older than Harry’s and Molly’s so on paper they should be better but really, we are all in the same boat and I think it will be really interesting to see who handles it the best.”
For CAMS ARC2 competitors, Lightforce Rally SA is critical; the event will confirm the finalists for the winner-takes-all showdown at Kennards Hire Rally Australia in November.
Tony Sullens and Brad Markovic look to have cemented their place in the final in the four-wheel-drive category; the third and final spot will come down to the wire between Maximum Motorsport’s John O’Dowd and Contel Mobile Communications’ Craig Brooks; Brooks trails O’Dowd by 28 points and will use Lightforce Rally SA as one of his two nominated rounds.
In the ARC2 two-wheel-drive class, McM Rallysport’s Stephen Mee needs a strong run this weekend to slip into third place and claim a start at Rally Australia along with Nathaniel Dillon and Lewis Bates, who look to have first and second sewn up.
Lightforce Rally SA kicks off at 2:30pm on Saturday with four afternoon stages and four night stages covering over 110 competitive kilometres, concluding at 9pm. Heat two starts at 8:30am Sunday with six stages and over 90 kilometres of competition.
Spectators can view all the action at official spectator points and can see their favourite cars and drivers up close at the Mount Crawford Service Park on Saturday and Sunday; visit www.rally.com.au for more information.