John O’Dowd and Toni Feaver have overcome tough conditions and a strong challenge to win the 2021 Make Smoking History Forest Rally.
With 31 crews taking part in the 2021 Motorsport Australia WA Rally Championship second round, O’Dowd and Feaver proved too strong as they won 12 out of the event’s 17 stages.
Behind the wheel of the Skoda Fabia R5, the duo were in control for much of the event, taking out consecutive stages on multiple occasions, and preventing a late fightback from Ben Searcy and Daymon Nicoli in the Mitsubishi Evo 9.
Starting on Friday night with the four Bunbury Super Special Stages, the event saw O’Dowd and Feaver get off to the perfect start, winning three of the four stages to build a 14 second lead over Craig Rando and Stephen Wade.
Heavy rainfall caused chaos on the second day of action, forcing two stages to be cancelled, but O’Dowd kept chipping away, winning three of the day’s first five stages.
Having built a nice gap of almost one and half minutes to Rando, a difficult final stage saw O’Dowd lose more than a minute of his lead to Searcy and Nicoli, who powered through the final stage to win by 17 seconds over Rando.
Despite the setback, O’Dowd still came away with the heat win over Searcy, while Rando rounded out the podium.
On Sunday, O’Dowd got off to a strong start and won the first three stages, building a 21 second gap to Searcy and Nicoli.
Only three tenths of a second separated the two crews in the penultimate stage and as O’Dowd cleanly made it through the final stage, which was won by Jack Flanagan and Camden Puzey, the 2018 state champion took out the second heat and the overall rally.
Avoiding a repeat of half a second loss at last year’s Forest Rally, O’Dowd was thrilled to take out the event in style and continue his charge towards the 2021 title.
“First two stages were good today, and then the rain came,” O’Dowd said on Sunday.
“But, we managed to hold it together to earn some good points.”
“We’re fighting for a Championship. Ben and Craig have done a fantastic job, so it will be a good year if they keep driving the way they are driving.
“You want to win it by small margins, not big ones – so it’s good for everyone. That’s good racing.
“The Fabia R5 is not a car that you can say ‘I’ll take it easy here’ because it’s not designed for that. So, you’ve got to be on it and get in late with the braking, get the car squatted down, get the diff working and go.
“That’s hard to do when you’re going flat out into a wet, slippery corner that’s just been rained on before you get there – you don’t know what it’s going to be like.”
Finishing the heat in second place were Searcy and Nicoli, who came close to producing a stunning comeback after being as low as 24th outright on Friday night, while Rando and Wade steered their Subaru Impreza WRX to third place.
In the other competitions running on the weekend, Toyota AE86 Sprint pilots Mark Travers and Jeremy Edwards won a tight battle over Alex and Lisa White in the Nissan S13 to take out the WA 2WD Cup, Andy van Kann co-drove his Toyota Corolla TE27 with Nannup local Tom Wilde to Clubman Masters honours and rookie team Michael Connor and Eden Hughes won the Clubman Cup.
The next round of the Motorsport Australia WA Rally Championship takes place at The Safari Rally in the Jarrahdale region on 19 June.
Photos: Tim Allott and Dugite – J Sierociak