Rally crews ready for Alpine challenge

After two years of build-up, the Alpine Rally of East Gippsland has arrived with more than 100 crews entered in the prestigious biennial event.

Since its inauguration 98 years ago, drivers from within Australia and around the world have entered the event with the goal of making history and finishing what is considered a highly challenging event.

While this year’s edition is just made up of local talent, there will still be a magnificent mixture of classic cars from all eras on display and outstanding drivers steering them, in an event which reaches its 63rd running.

Throughout history, the Alpine Rally has seen competitors take on a variety of surfaces across three days, but in 2019, it will be a shortened event due to an unfortunate series of bushfires which have affected large parts of Australia.

Unlike the regular course which has crews clocking more than 300 competitive kilometres, this year will just have around 220km across 13 stages with all of Sunday cancelled.

Despite the event being changed, Alpine Rally Media Manager Paul Mollison was confident the rally would still live up to its strong reputation and offer a different challenge.

“The preparations have been going well and from what I have heard, the roads are sensational, but it’s a little disappointing that it’s only going to run for a day and bit,” Mollison said.

“We lost two stages on Friday and all of Sunday but we still have every stage on Saturday as it’s out east and Friday night’s special stage at Bairnsdale Speedway is still going, which always draws a large crowd.

“We would have loved it to be the full length because it’s always been a long and challenging event, but now the event is going to be different because drivers will be required to push a bit harder.

“People used to take their time in getting into the groove, but now they can’t afford to back off, so it’s going to be a different kind of difficult for competitors.”

Fortunately for the rally, the shortened event has failed to sway the rally community with all crews committed to competing.

Headlining the impressive field will be 2017 Alpine Rally champions Ben Barker and Damian Long, 2017 CAMS Australian Rally champion Nathan Quinn, Brendon Reeves, Jack Monkhouse and Luke Fatima, all of which will fancy themselves with a shot at the title.

“The Alpine has a reputation of throwing curies which is what makes it popular. Everyone wants to win. For us, it’s rally’s version of Bathurst.” Mollison added.

“When Alistair McCrae competed a few years ago, he thought he was going to dominate until he realised he was the third fastest, which highlighted how good the competition it is.

“While Ben would be a favourite heading in, there are a dozen people in with a shot to take out the title. We have some really talented drivers who have a number of state and national championships under their belt.

“We have crews from all the states bar the Northern Territory so we are pretty well represented which is great.”

The event begins on Friday evening with four stages to be run, before Saturday’s nine stages begin at 8am AEDT and conclude around 8pm.

Mollison was grateful the event was still able to run, highlighting the efforts of Clerk of Course, Owen Polanski and Road Director, Steve Hollowood.

“A lot of credit needs to go Owen and Steve because they have worked with the local communities tirelessly in keeping this event alive,” Mollison explained.

“Without a doubt, it wouldn’t be going on without their huge efforts in restructuring the running of the event after the interruption of the original route was jeopardised by the local bushfires.

“What makes it such a great rally is the history of it, as well as having a real prestige to the Alpine, which is why the competitors love the challenge of a hard fought three day event.

The Alpine Rally of East Gippsland takes place on 29-30 November around the Lakes Entrance area.

For scores, updates and information as the rally unfolds, go to www.alpinerally.org.au