Harry Bates has picked up right where he left off in Western Australia, with a commanding Heat 1 victory in the Shannons Rally Launceston.
The reigning champion was faultless across the day’s six stages, as he charged to a three-minute victory over Richie Dalton and Dale Moscatt, while Troy Dowel and Bernie Webb rounded out the top three.
Although without his regular co-driver John McCarthy, there was nothing irregular about Bates’ dominance as he claimed a clean sweep of stage wins alongside Coral Taylor.
Right from the get go, Bates and Taylor were in sync and led the field by more than a minute at the first service break.
By the time they returned to the Inverness Road Service Park by Saturday evening, that lead grew to more than three minutes as the duo took out heat in style.
“Big day, long day and very tough conditions with a half wet/half dry sort of scenario,” Bates said.
“Very strong from our side. The GR Yaris AP4 performed faultlessly and I thought my co-driver did a pretty good job today.
“Coral is such a professional and proved it today. I find it amazing. To get in a car at these sorts of speeds that these cars are going in the ARC nowadays is amazing.
“For her to jump at her age and a recent lack of competition, my hat goes off to her and I am very grateful to have her this weekend.”
As for Dalton, the Irishman was quite consistent throughout the Heat as he steered his Toyota Yaris AP4 to a top five finish in every stage.
For much of the day, Dalton was involved in an entertaining battle with Tom Clarke until the latter had a big crash on the day’s penultimate stage.
While both Clarke and co-driver Ryan Preston were ultimately okay, the Medical Intervention Vehicle was sent to them and the stage was stopped.
Clarke’s unfortunate end saw him withdraw and allowed Dalton to cruise to second place.
“I am happy for the result that we got but it was a very difficult day inside the car,” Dalton explained.
“Obviously struggling with a head cold and because my ears won’t pop, I have been struggling to hear Dale all day.
“I am also struggling with second and third gear corners, so there is a lot going on, but we still finished second so I have to be happy.”
One of the other big benefactors of Clarke’s incident was Dowel, who moved directly into third and picked up his highest ever ARC Heat Finish.
Although he took out third, Dowel was locked in a close battle for much of the day with White Wolf Constructions Production Cup contender Taylor Gill and Kim Bessel.
Unfortunately Gill was handed a one-minute penalty for checking in early on the opening stage, which saw him ultimately demoted to seventh at the conclusion of the day.
As a result of Gill’s penalty, Lewis Bates and Anthony McLoughlin slotted into fourth with the Toyota Gazoo Racing Australia duo recovering after a disastrous Saturday morning.
A rear puncture on the first stage and an excursion into the trees on the third stage, however as the event went on, Bates clawed his way back up the standings.
Also capitalising on Gill’s misfortune was local star Eddie Maguire, despite having issues in stage three.
Saturday proved quite fruitful for Maguire, who alongside Zak Brakey, finished fifth outright and took out both ARC Production Cup and Motorsport Australia Tasmanian Rally Championship (TRC).
“It was a bit frantic trying to get the car back to service. The shaft inside the diff was broken, so we were lucky to get the broken bits in and then back out,” Maguire said.
“It was a good recovery and it’s great to get back to the old girl. We haven’t been in it for a while. I have not been on gravel for a while.
“When we really started to get in gear on the last few stages today, I had a big grin because I just haven’t been in a car like that actually.
Finishing ahead of Gill in sixth outright was TRC runner-up Bodie Reading and Mark Young, while Daniel Gonzalez and Caleb Ash, other Tasmanian talents Ben Newman and Steve Glenney and Ryan Williams and Brad Jones rounded out the top 10.
The Queenslanders also took out the heat for Shamrock Haulage ARC 2WD Championship.
The action resumes tomorrow with six stages to take place across the day.