It’s been more than a year since John O’Dowd last competed in the Bosch Motorsport Australia Rally Championship (ARC) with the West Australian based driver’s last round being the 2022 edition of the Make Smoking History Forest Rally.
Unfortunately, O’Dowd endured a difficult 12 months following the Forest Rally when a mountain bike crash saw him requiring shoulder surgery and a long road to recovery.
Thankfully O’Dowd’s recovery progressed with no major setbacks and he was able to get back behind the wheel during last month’s Motorsport Australia WA Rally Championship season opener in Bakers Hill.
Finishing fifth in the Novus Glass Winvale Park Stages behind the likes of ARC regulars Daniel Gonzalez, Alex Rullo and Peter Rullo, O’Dowd got through the event feeling good and ready to tackle the Forest Rally.
And although it’s been a long time since he has strung a number of rounds together, O’Dowd had no doubts as to what his targets were for the round.
“I am really happy to be back in the car, my shoulders are feeling better and the Forest Rally is a ARC round where you get to drive against the best in the country, so it’s looking good,” O’Dowd said.
“We will give it a red-hot go, but we will see what happens because I imagine I have gone backwards. Honestly, I just want to finish and see where I end up in the scheme of things.
“The ARC is full of talent and even from a state-level point of view, there is a lot harder competition now, which is great for the sport and great for WA.
“Peter and Alex Rullo are doing well in the Hyundais and Gonzalez is also right up there. Even Craig Rando has been putting good results, so if those local guys have a good run, they’ll keep top ARC guys honest.
“I myself am not going to be just hanging around either. I finished fifth in Bakers Hill, so I was actually quite happy. You can finish fifth and be disappointed, but I was content with the way I drove and the result, considering it’s been a while.
“Down in Nannup, the roads are different and they test a lot of people, and being that it’s my first one back, I just want to finish and see where I end up in the scheme of things. If I can finish well. I am okay with that.”
While O’Dowd was excited to be making his return to the ARC, a full-time return may take a little longer to occur.
The three-time WARC Champion is likely to spend this year in recovery mode and contest the state championship before looking to a full time return next year.
However before a return can happen, a few things will have to align for the driver who finished fourth on the outright ARC standings in 2017 and 2018 despite missing a round each year due to WARC commitments.
“At this point, I am not sure if I can go to do the full championship in 2023,” O’Dowd said.
“I really wanted to do a full campaign this year but because of my shoulder and the agreement I have on the car, I can’t commit. Hopefully next year, things are a bit different.
“The most important thing is that finishing Bakers Hill was ticking a box in my road to recovery. It was good and I was happy that I was able to finish without much pain.
“I will continue to do as many rounds of the state championship as possible and focus on returning to the ARC next year.
“I might not be as talented or fast as the current crop of ARC drivers, but consistency counts for a lot and if you’re there abouts at the end of the year, you never know where you could end up.
“A good weekend in the Forest Rally results-wise and no shoulder pain will hopefully spur on that motivation to return to the ARC in 2024.”
The 2023 Make Smoking History Forest Rally takes place in Bunbury and Nannup on 19-21 May.