For 2017 ARC2 2WD title winner Stephen Mee, his first year in the ARC was a lot about learning, eliminating teething problems in his newly-built Toyota Corolla, grabbing much needed points where he could and proving persistence pays off.
Mee, who had competed previously in both a Gemini and a Mazda Familia, built the 2008 Toyota Corolla 2WD from a bare body shell.
Originally intending to enter the opening round of the ARC at the Eureka Rally, the introduction of the ARC2 class as a stepping stone to national competition saw Mee nominate the National Capital Rally as his nominated round as well as his home round at Lightforce Rally SA.
As an ex-Canberran, and having assisted with Rally of Canberraf or many years, Mee hoped that his knowledge of the event would translate into a good result.
The rally gods had other ideas.
The Corolla had a number of tests at local hill climbs and autosprints before its debut rally at RAA Southern Rally in SA, where Mee finished seventh outright and second in class.
Heading to National Capital Rally Mee and co-driver Matthew Harriot were hoping for a solid run.
“We were leading 2WD at round three of the ARC in Canberra, when an un-noted jump broke the rear suspension on a heavy landing,” Mee said.
“This made the car difficult to handle over the rest of the third and longest stage. We dropped to be 14 seconds behind the day’s eventual winner after five stages. It wasn’t until service we realised the extent of the damage.”
Mee was out of the day one competition, but worked on the Corolla to rejoin for day two.
Co-driver Harriot recounted Sunday’s action: “Day two looked promising with compromised handling. About 8k into the first stage we were going well, when a gear tooth failure broke the input shaft in the gearbox. No drive ended our rally there and then. The car’s previous outing in South Australia showed no signs of this defect.”
With no points from their nominated event, and their main rival in the ARC2 2WD class Nathaniel Dillon scoring 16 points, their home rally in SA now held extra significance. Much investigation and work went into replacement gearboxes and suspension to prepare for the event.
Lightforce Rally SA was not all smooth sailing for Mee and Harriot. Day one ended with not one but two broken driveshafts. Knowing that they had to score points, the pair worked to repair the Corolla and rejoin for day two, eventually earning the required points to qualify for the ARC2 final at Rally Australia.
Compared to their two qualifying events, Rally Australia was a relative breeze in terms of mechanical reliability, Mee’s meticulous work on the beautifully prepared Toyota Corolla coming into its own. Mee and Harriot were consistent throughout the three day event, maintaining a lead over Dillon and co-driver Mark Malpas from the get-go.
Mee and Harriot completed the three-day event, finishing 12th outright, claiming the ARC2 2WD title and ending third in the 2WD class.
Mee found the ARC2 experience a great way to dip a toe in the water of national competition.
“Without it (ARC2) we wouldn’t have travelled to Coffs,” Mee said.
“It’s 2000 kilometres and two days’ worth of travel towing a car. But given the opportunity to represent at this level and be part of those chosen few, it’s a good experience to come out here and see what happens and see how the rest of the competition runs.
“You can say for next year ‘yep I need this’ or take a year off and come back in a years’ time, say ‘I need to improve here or I need more money or my car needs to be a little better to get where we want’. So it’s been really good.”