The Bosch Motorsport Australia Rally Championship has officially kicked off for 2023 with Toyota Gazoo Racing Australia’ Lewis Bates and Anthony McLoughlin winning a wild opening heat of the season.
A strong field of 31 crews were entered in the Buckby ŠKODA Rally Launceston, 25 of which were ARC registered, and it was Bates and McLoughlin who came out on top after Heat 1’s six stages.
Despite the reigning champions finishing more than 20 seconds ahead of locals Bodie Reading and Mark Young, who were one of the standout performers of the day, the duo was made to work for their heat win.
“It was an awesome day out. It’s the perfect start to the season with great championship points and we couldn’t ask for anything more,” Bates said.
“In stage three, we had a sensor issue and we actually dropped about 45 seconds in the end, so at the midday service we’re sitting in third place and we had our work cut out to catch that time up this afternoon.
“I was on a bit of a mission to push hard and make sure we catch that time so we could get the win today because Bodie and Eddie were both driving extremely well.
“They clearly know those roads well and they’re very fast drivers, so it was fun hunting them down this afternoon and it made for a good battle.”
Missing out on second place for the heat by just over one second were Luke Anear and Anear with the AGI Rallysport drivers enjoying a solid second half of the day.
In what began as a dramatic morning in the forests of Launceston, there was plenty of talking points to occur with the most notable being the early retirement of 2019 ARC champion Harry Bates and Coral Taylor.
A strong start off the line for the top seeded car was quickly undone after his Toyota Yaris AP4 suffered the same exhaust manifold issue that from last year’s Adelaide Hills Rally.
Last year’s Rally Launceston winner wasn’t the only driver to have problem’s during the opening stages, as a number of crews struggled to deal with the conditions, had mechanical faults or were still adapting to their new cars.
Taking advantage of the slow start from many of the ARC regulars was Reading and Young, who managed to take the outright lead at the midway point of the day.
Sitting in second after three stages were fellow Tasmanians Eddie Maguire and Adam Kudra, who won the morning’s third stage – a remarkable effort considering Maguire being a late replacement for the injured Ben Newman.
It was far less unpredictable in the day’s afternoon stages as the ARC regulars improved significantly from the morning’s passes – Lewis and McLoughlin regaining the lead by SS5.
While Reading and Maguire remained consistent, the likes of Anear, Nathan Quinn, Daniel Gonzalez and Alex Rullo began to get more of their top tier cars, with Quinn and Anear both grabbing a stage win each.
Anear’s stage win on SS6 saw him surpass Maguire for third place, bumping the Tasmanian down to fourth, while Rullo and co-driver Steve Glenney’s afternoon saw them finish in an impressive fifth place.
Although he was unable to hold on for the outright heat win, Reading still walked away with plenty to be proud of, with top honours in day one of the White Wolf Constructions ARC Production Cup and the outright Motorsport Australia Tasmanian Rally Championship victory.
Reading managed to beat Maguire in both competitions, whilst Stephen Maguire and Stuart Benson rounded out the top three in each.
Taking out the remaining ARC Cup Heat wins were Ben Hayes and Cathy Hayes claiming the ARC 2WD Cup and David Thompson and Matthew Sanders backing up their 2022 win with the ARC Classic Cup victory.
The Buckby ŠKODA Rally Launceston continues tomorrow for Heat 2.
Live coverage of the EROAD Power Stage takes place on 7plus at 3.30pm AEDT on Sunday.