It’s been a while since the RSEA Safety Motorsport Australia Rally Championship visited the nation’s west, and plenty has changed in the three years.
The Make Smoking History Forest Rally opened the 2019 season, with a total of 48 crews entered – 12 of which were ARC registered.
Highlighting the strength of the ARC’s resurgence since the last Forest Rally, this year’s event will welcome 27 ARC entrants for the round, while a further 41 crews will be contesting the WA State Championship and Clubman Series.
Of the 12 registered competitors last time out, six will be returning and of those, half of them stood on the outright event podium.
Harry Bates and John McCarthy got their dominant title year off to the perfect start with the first of their five round victories, which saw them secure a maximum number of points.
Finishing in second place were Toyota Gazoo Racing Australia teammates Lewis Bates and Anthony McLoughlin, while Darren Windus and Daniel Brkic rounded out the podium – the latter will be making his first ARC appearance this weekend since the 2021 Netier National Capital Rally.
In the opening heat, Harry and McCarthy showed a glimpse into what would come for the rest of the year with seven stage wins during the day, including a hat-trick of consecutive wins between stages three and five.
Younger brother Lewis enjoyed a solid run during the day to finish in second with two stage wins of his own– the biggest being a four second stage win which stopped Harry’s streak – however there was little he could do to prevent Harry from winning the rally by 40 seconds.
Behind the wheel of the production class Subaru WRX, Tom Wilde and Madelin Kirkhouse finished up the day in third place having enjoyed a stage win of their own during the first run of the special Nannup Oval stage.
On day two, Harry again won the opening stage, only this time he shared that honour with Richie Dalton and Dale Moscatt, who came out firing after a disappointing opening day.
However, Dalton couldn’t match the Canberran for the remainder of the rally as Harry went on to win four of the next six stages, while Lewis won the other two.
Despite Lewis winning two stages, he was constantly battling other crews for second place in the Heat’s other five stages as he ultimately finished one and a half minutes behind his older brother.
Lewis wasn’t the only one to have a difficult run throughout the day, as a number of other crews, including Wilde, struggled.
Taking out third place for the Heat was Windus and Brkic, who had finished the first Heat in fifth place behind 2016 ARC champion Molly Taylor and Malcolm Read.
Taylor and Read ended up finishing Heat 2 in sixth place, just one place behind Wilde and Kirkhouse who rounded out the day’s top five behind local driver John O’Dowd and Toni Feaver.
It was a weekend to celebrate for both Bates brothers, Windus and O’Dowd, who finished fifth overall.
As for the other two drivers to be returning, the event was one of Troy Dowel’s first events and he finished equal seventh with Luke Anear, while Dalton finished last having missed eight stages.
The 2022 Make Smoking History Forest Rally takes place in Bunbury and Nannup on 21-23 May.