Lewis Bates and Anthony McLoughlin have finished the opening day of the Subaru Canberra Rally of Canberra just seconds on top of the event standings after a dramatic six stages.
In what was an extremely tough day for crews facing challenging conditions, the reigning ARC champions’ consistency saw them end the day with a narrow three second advantage over Toyota Gazoo Racing Australia teammates Harry Bates and Coral Taylor.
The two title contenders were the standout performers throughout day one, with Eddie Maguire and Zak Brakey rounding out the top three more than 30 seconds off Harry and Taylor following what was a strong Canberra debut.
Although Lewis and McLoughlin lead at the midway point of the rally, it was Harry and Taylor who led for most of the day, only for a spin on the final stage to cost them their position.
Starting off the day on a high, Harry and Taylor jumped out to a 17 second lead after the rally’s opening stage, before Maguire and Brakey guided their Skoda Fabia R5 to the stage two win.
Lewis and McLoughlin’s victory on stage three highlighted the equal competition amongst the top crews, only for Harry and Taylor to extend their lead out to more than 20 seconds on stage four.
A win on stage five saw Harry build his lead to more than 27 seconds after Lewis finished four seconds slower, while Maguire came to within three tenths of winning the stage for the second time of the day.
The event then turned on its head on the day’s final stage as Harry and Taylor had a big spin, which resulted in a snapped front sway bar and undid their good work throughout the day, ultimately demoting them to second behind Lewis and McLoughlin.
“I am feeling pretty tired to be honest. It was a long tough day and very hot. I think all the crews are feeling it,” Lewis said post stage six.
“In terms of results, leading at the end of day one is a step in the right direction, even if three seconds is nothing from an overall event point of view.
“We are obviously sitting in a good position though, even though we lost lots of time on the first pass of Oakey Creek, which was frustrating.
“We fought back and tried to pile pressure on Harry and as we kept pushing, we began to improve and build the confidence as the day went on.
“I knew that we had a good run on the final stage, but we had no idea about Harry until some time after we finished. It was a nice surprise to have after what was a tough day.
“Although it’s only three seconds, it’s good to go into tomorrow with a lead and we need to get some rest and go over notes for tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, the returning Taylor Gil and Daniel Brkic finishing the day in outright fourth place and leading the White Wolf Constructions ARC Production Cup.
For much of the day, Gill and Brkic trailed fellow Production Cup stars Molly Taylor and Andy Sarandis, until Molly’s Subaru WRX suffered an intercooler issue on stage four before a troublesome final stage saw the 2016 ARC champion drop to seventh overall.
Splitting the two Production crews at the end of the day was the Snickers Racing Ford Fiesta Mk2 of Luke Anear and Malcolm Read, who occupied fourth place until a slow run on the final stage saw them drop below Gill, and fellow Ford Fiesta pilots Troy Dowel and Bernie Webb.
Flying under the radar for most of day one, Dowel and Webb enjoyed their highest finish of the event on stage six with fourth overall, leapfrogging Molly in the process.
Rounding out the top 10 at the midway point of the rally is the returning Richie Dalton and Dale Moscatt, who also lead the Motorsport Australia NSW Rally Championship, Production Cup title contender Steve Maguire and co-driver Ben Searcy, and Dalton’s main state title rival Timothy Wilkins and co-driver Jim Gleeson.
In the other classes, Tom Clarke and Ryan Preston sit 15th overall and lead the ARC Classic Cup, while Queenslanders Josh Wiedman and Nick Reid lead both the ARC 2WD Cup and the Shamrock Haulage ARC Junior Cup.
Although 34 ARC crews started the event, almost a third of the field failed to finish the day, with the famous roads causing havoc once again.
Some of the big names out for the day included Daniel Gonzalez and Morgan Ward, who had a big rollover in both the morning and the afternoon, as well as Jamie and Bradley Luff, who had a little off in the morning that caused big damage to their Toyota Yaris AP4 and ruled them out for the day.
The action continues tomorrow with the Subaru Canberra Rally of Canberra’s final six stages, starting at 8:48am, while the EROAD Power Stage takes place at 2:30pm AEDT – with the stage live streamed on 7plus.