Bates in positive mindset for title defence

For a two-time Bosch Motorsport Australia Rally Championship (ARC) champion, the last few years have been quite the rollercoaster for Harry Bates.

Bates comfortably won his first ARC title in 2019 after claiming all five rounds of the season, before COVID-19 saw the next two seasons cancelled.

In that time, he and co-driver John McCarthy won every event that was held, and the duo looked like they would steamroll their way through to a successful first official title defence.

But after winning the opening three rounds in 2022, the script flipped on its head for the next three events as mechanical woes, costly mistakes and mounting pressure culminated in a scary crash on the final day of the season, ending their hopes of a second title.

With McCarthy withdrawing for the 2023 season, Bates enlisted the services of a proven champion in Coral Taylor in the hopes of turning his fortunes around quickly.

And despite a challenging start, Bates and Taylor eventually hit their groove and managed to win the title in what was a thrilling battle that went down to the very last stage of the season.

Photo: Gears and Wheels Photography

Now a champion once again, Bates has plenty of experience to draw on when it comes to defending a national title.

“If you had asked me at the end of 2019 what I thought a title defence would be like, I would have thought it would be reasonably easy, because at the time, John (McCarthy) and I were winning a lot of rallies,” Bates said.

“But I was made to dig deep for the championship last year and it was never easy for Coral and I. We had to really fight every single day for the result that we got.

“And the one thing that I’m taking into this year is that we’re ready for a fight. It’s not like we had that pressure in 2019 where we don’t know what it feels like to have to push.

“I feel like I’m now better prepared for a title defence than I was for 2022.

“But the heartbreak of that season held us in good stead for last year, because you can only have so long of everything going your way before things don’t go your way, and it’s how you deal with it that matters.

“And I learned a lot from 2022 about being patient, which helped in 2023 when our patience was tested quite a few times. I stayed true to my mantra and just kept fighting for results.

“There’s no game plan for 2024 other than to have to turn up to Canberra and drive absolutely flat out.”

Not only does Bates find himself with the pressure of defending a title once again, but like he did in previous years, he will once again have to get used to a new car.

Bates and the Toyota Gazoo Racing Australia team unveiled his new Toyota Yaris Rally 2 at the Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix 2024, and the Canberran knew what he had to do this year.

Photos: Revved Photography

“I know how important it is to adapt to this new car early and make sure that I’m comfortable in it,” Bates explained.

“I did the same thing a couple of years ago for both the ARC and Rally New Zealand. I had to turn up in a new car with very minimal testing, which is not an easy thing to do.

“From that point of view, I should probably be slightly worried about how we’re going to go in Canberra, but at the same time, I’ve got more experience now than I did back in 2022, so I have a bit more confidence adapting to a new car.

“I’m definitely targeting the win in Canberra, but it remains to be seen as to whether that’s achievable. I’m pretty sure we can get on top of the car early as it’s a car that’s already won in international rallies now.

“Being a sprint event is probably a good way to start the season too – even though I’m a fan of Canberra as an endurance event because it’s traditionally one of the tougher events with that endurance element, I can also see value in it being a sprint as the first round.

“I don’t think I will be taking anything for granted this year. I am aware that we’re going to be up against stiff competition with the likes of Lewis (Bates), Scott Pedder and the Maguires all in good form.

“I think honestly there are five or six crews who are going to be winning stages this year, which is something that we’ve haven’t had in the ARC for a little while now.

“So that’s exciting for the sport, but it also means that we’ll have to work a little bit harder for rally wins.”

The Bosch Motorsport Australia Rally Championship season begins with Techworkz Automotive Rally of Canberra on 5-7 April.