Lewis Bates has won his first ever RSEA Safety Motorsport Australia Rally Championship (ARC) round after taking out The Middle of Everywhere Gippsland Rally in style.
Alongside co-driver Anthony McLoughlin, Bates was highly consistent throughout a dramatic 13-stage rally of high attrition, as he charged to a two minute and a half outright victory.
Bates wasn’t the only driver to claim a career-best result this weekend with both Troy Dowel and Max McRae enjoying their first ever ARC podiums.
In what ended up an intense battle for the minor podium positions, very little separated Dowel and McRae throughout the second half of the rally, however it was the former who prevailed on the EROAD Power Stage to seal second place by just two seconds.
The EROAD Power Stage also saw some form of redemption take place with championship leaders Harry Bates and John McCarthy claiming maximum points on the stage to secure 10th outright.
Although their dominant run of ARC round wins came to an end after breaking down earlier in the rally, Harry and McCarthy returned on Sunday and won all five stages, including the EROAD Power stage, where he beat Toyota Gazoo Racing Australia teammates Lewis and McLoughlin, while McRae and co-driver Mac Kierans finished third on stage.
Enjoying career-high finishes were Jamie and Brad Luff, who picked up fourth place on both the EROAD Power Stage and overall, as well as Queenslanders Ronnie Bustard and Larisa Biggar, who rounded out the top five.
While there was plenty to celebrate for many of the crews who made it through the fifth round of the ARC season, the weekend truly belong to Lewis Bates, who nursed the car home to take out both his and McLoughlin’s first win.
“It was a bit frightening to be honest with you both Anthony and I were as relaxed as we could be and just making sure everything was running smoothly,” Lewis said.
“The strategy for Anthony and I this morning was to try and get a good rhythm in the first two stages, I think we did a pretty good job of that, we extended our lead and then just sort had to sit on that this afternoon.
“It’s nice to get a good result for the team. It’s unfortunate that Harry and John didn’t have much luck yesterday but I’m glad we could get the victory for the team, as well as getting mine and Anthony’s first victory.
“A big congratulations to Troy and Bernie and also Max and Mac, on both their first podiums, it’s a podium of firsts and it’s pretty cool.”
As for Dowel, it was an amazing effort to finish on the podium – especially after feeling ill at the start of the rally.
“I’m just relieved, it was a real tough rally with lots of challenges and some technical stages so i’m just happy to finish,” Dowel said.
“It’s amazing what a nice rest does to you. I was feeling good this morning so I was happy to push. It was just a little concentration lapses during the day, I was just feeling bad I guess. It’s hard to say, I guess feeling sick would have had a bit to play.
I was slowing down for the risky stuff really. Just taking each stage by stage and not taking any risks. I think Max had a few moments in the first stage and went off the road and that gave us an opening.
“Just driving to the notes and not underdriving and not overdriving at the same time.”
Despite just missing out on second place to Dowel, the rally proved a breakout event for McRae, who along with his maiden podium, ended up with the White Wolf Constructions ARC Production Cup victory, beating Luff and Bustard.
“It’s cool to be on the podium for the outright ARC. I didn’t think it’d happen so soon,” McRae said.
“It clicked pretty early on and went hard on the first four flowing stages and then just brought it out to the next stages. It’s great to just be on the podium, so I’m happy.
“I have definitely grown as a driver in terms of seat time and experience and pace note making and commitment, it has all been a massive step. Especially going with faster thinking and faster driving in a faster car.”
Taking out top honours in the Shamrock Haulage ARC 2WD Cup and seventh outright was Guy Tyler and Zayne Admiraal – the South Australians handed the class lead late in the rally when Ryan Williams and Brad Jones crashed out on the penultimate stage. It was a lead short-lived for the Queenslanders, who were elevated to the lead after Scott Pedder and Chris Randell were forced to retire overnight.
Ultimately finishing second in the ARC 2WD Cup podium was Dean Ridge and Phillip Bonser, the duo finishing eighth outright ahead of James Dimmock and Paul Bennett.
The ARC 2WD Cup wasn’t the only podium for Dimmock and Bennett with the Ford Fiesta drivers also winning the Glendun ARC Junior Cup comfortably by almost 10 minutes over Molly Spalding and Douglas Johnson.
In the ARC Classic Cup, Brendan Reeves was the only finisher for the weekend, steering his Datsun P510 to outright sixth place in the process.
The RSEA Safety Motorsport Australia Rally Championship continues next month with the Adelaide Hills Rally on 21-23 October.