Clarke locks in Launceston for ARC return

Tom Clarke has confirmed he will be returning to the Bosch Motorsport Australia Rally Championship, having entered this month’s Buckby ŠKODA Rally Launceston.

It’s been a long time since Clarke last ran in the ARC, with his most recent appearance coincidentally being the same event last year.

In the 2022 Rally Launceston, Clarke was involved with a huge crash, which ultimately caused significant damage to the White Wolf Racing Ford Fiesta.

Fortunately, Clarke and co-driver Ryan Preston walked away without serious injury, however the damage to the car proved season-ending.

“We had only been in the car for a few events and we knew we had the speed during the early stages of last year’s event,” Clarke said.

“Looking at those stage times, we weren’t going fastest, but we were finishing ahead of Lewis Bates and Richie Dalton, so we knew we were on the right track.

“The crash happened as we were hitting our straps and it wasn’t a driver or co-driver error, it was purely a notes error. We missed marking it down in our notes during the first pass and unfortunately, that cost us drastically.

“Up to that point, we felt like we were on the money and we felt super comfortable, so it was a massive learning curve for us and something we need to make sure we’re on top of in future.”

Photo: Angryman Photography

Although the damage to the car was not as bad as initially expected, it was still going to be a big exercise to get the car back to its original spec.

Clarke also received permission from M-Sport, who originally prepared the car, to rebuild it with the White Wolf Racing crew.

After months of hard work, the car was eventually approved by the prominent World Rally Championship outfit – giving Clarke the chance to return to the ARC.

“It’s exactly the same spec car and we had it certified by Neil Allport Motorsports at the request of M-Sport, who confirmed it was accurate by the millimetre,” Clarke added.

“We could have sent it back to M Sport to rebuild, but cost wise, it wasn’t feasible and we managed to convince them to allow us to do it ourselves as we have the team to do it.

“They were extremely happy with the car and have given us the tick of approval, which is very exciting.

“I think they have seen the work we can do now, they have a better understanding of us and they are confident we can do the same work that they can, which is great.”

While his car was in the workshop, Clarke’s rally aspirations took a back seat as he focused on White Wolf Constructions and his family, before completing making a small return at the famous Alpine Rally of East Gippsland.

Behind the wheel of a Datsun Stanza, Clarke and Preston completed six stages setting back to back top 5 stage times before retiring due to mechanical issues.

Photo: Dakar Press Team Australia

Despite the premature ending to the rally, it was enough to reignite the fire inside Clarke’s belly and he set a target of returning to the ARC in Launceston.

“We did Alpine at the end of last year and even though it was a different car and a different rally, I was just back in my element of having a ball,” Clarke explained.

“I felt so passionate again and honestly, I couldn’t wait to get back into the Fiesta and compete in the ARC again.

“I never really lost the passion, but having been away from the sport and working hard, rallying left my mind a little. It’s one of those situations where if you take some time out of something, it dissipates a little bit. But as soon as I got back in the car, the flame was ignited again.

“While the Alpine felt a bit foreign, it came back like riding a bike. It took me just half a stage to realise what I was missing.

“Thankfully I don’t get frazzled by big accidents and I can get back in the car the next day, so that was never a problem, It was more getting the car back.

“So, I am very excited to get back later this month. I honestly think we can challenge ourselves and I am really looking forward to it.”

Clarke will complete a number of tests in the lead up to the event, before making his return at the end of the month.

The Buckby ŠKODA Rally Launceston takes place in and around the forests of Launceston on 24-26 March.

Feature Photo: Dakar Press Team Australia