The Bosch Motorsport Australia Rally Championship (ARC) looked a lot different the last time it visited Western Australia for the Make Smoking History Forest Rally.
It had been three years between ARC events in WA and Harry Bates and John McCarthy were the reigning champions from 2019, the duo coming off an eighth straight ARC victory after winning in Canberra the month before (nine wins if you include the ARC Cup in November 2020).
Looking back at the 2022 Make Smoking Historic Forest Rally, there was plenty of action throughout the field as Harry and McCarthy chased their ninth straight ARC victory.
The second round of the 2022 season was split into two Heats with a huge field of 68 crews entered in the event.
Starting on the Friday night with four Shannons Super Special Stages at Bunbury Speedway, it was Eli Evans and Adam Wright who took the lead early having won three stages to Harry and McCarthy’s one.
A five second difference split Evans and Harry heading into Saturday’s action with eight stages remaining in Heat 1 and it was Evans and Wright who drew first blood, steering their Mini Cooper AP5 to victory in the day’s first stage by just three tenths.
Unfortunately, a fuel pump issue on the very next stage saw the 2018 ARC champion out of the running, elevating Harry and McCarthy to the lead – the duo then going on to win every stage after to seal the Heat victory.
Finishing the Heat in second place were Richie Dalton and Dale Moscatt, while Lewis Bates and Anthony McLoughlin’s third made it a highly successful day for the Neal Bates Motorsport team with all three Toyotas in the top three.
Evans wasn’t the only high-profile driver to have a tough day though with Arron Windus and Daniel Brkic crashing out on SS8 – the big moment causing them to end their weekend early.
Rounding out the day’s top five were Troy Dowel steering his Hyundai i20 alongside Bernie Webb to fourth, 30 seconds ahead of West Australian Max McRae and Mac Kierans, who are now in Europe preparing for a Junior European Rally Championship campaign.
The Heat proved quite successful for McRae as the teenager also claimed honours in the White Wolf Constructions ARC Production Cup and the Motorsport Australia WA Rally Championship.
Taking out the Heat win for the Shamrock Haulage ARC 2WD Cup was Gary Mills and Mitch Gray, while Molly Spalding and Douglas Johnson were victorious in the Glendun ARC Junior Cup.
Given the sprint format, the timesheets reset for Sunday’s second Heat with another day of drama.
A number of mechanical issues with their Toyota GR Yaris AP4 in the morning saw Harry and McCarthy forced to play catch up as they finished the opening stage in sixth and 44 seconds behind winners, Evans and Wright.
Evans’ luck would again run out shortly after as their Mini Cooper AP4 suffered a fire at the end of the next stage, while McRae and Kierans crashed out on the same stage – opening the door for a number of crews across a variety of classes.
Although Evans and Wright remained leaders at the conclusion of the stage, Lewis and McLoughlin were technically on top as they moved to a comfortable 28-second lead over the second placed Tom Clarke and Ryan Preston on SS15.
Harry and McCarthy, who won four of the five stages on the Sunday, including the EROAD Power Stage, also charged up the order and into third place for the Heat.
Although they didn’t win a stage, Lewis and McLoughlin had done enough to secure their first ever ARC Heat win as the eventual 2023 championship finished ahead of Dalton and Moscatt for the day.
In the White Wolf Constructions ARC Production Cup, the late Ronnie Bustard and Larisa Biggar took out the win, beating Caoimhin Mac Ghirr and Noah Humble by one minute and 45 seconds, while Aidan Peterson and Mitchell Newton enjoyed Heat honours for both the ARC 2WD Cup and ARC Junior Cup.
When it came to the overall podium, it was a Toyota Gazoo Racing Australia one-two with Harry and McCarthy successfully securing yet another victory, while Lewis and McLaughlin ended up second ahead of Dalton and Moscatt – the Irishman enjoying a maiden ARC podium.
The 2023 Make Smoking History Forest Rally takes place in Bunbury and Nannup on 19-21 May.