The Courier Eureka Rally kicks off round one of the 2018 CAMS Australian Rally Championship (ARC) in Ballarat this weekend with a 50-strong field that promises fast rally action and fierce competition.
Previous Australian Rally Champions Eli Evans and Molly Taylor will head the field along with last year’s Eureka Rally winner Harry Bates.
Toyota Genuine Parts’ Bates, with co-driver John McCarthy, returns to the event with fond memories from his win last year.
“Certainly coming in to the event as last years winner is nice,” Bates said.
“I was a bit surprised by our speed at the 2017 event and it was one of those rallies where we just got everything right.
“If anything I’d say this gives me motivation to do it again and defend that title.”
Bates believes that one of the biggest challenges for competitors at The Courier Eureka Rally this year will be managing tyre wear.
“The loops are quite long and it’s a hot and dry area, so tyre wear could be an issue, especially given it’s basically still summer and the temperatures can be high.”
With main rivals Taylor and Evans both welcoming new co-drivers at this event, Bates believes their experience will overcome any hurdles this presents. For him though, continuing his partnership with McCarthy has been beneficial.
“Being able to continue to work with John over the off season and plan this season has been really helpful, especially given how hard last year was for us.
“We know each other well – we are both competitive. We both want to win.”
For Subaru do Motorsport’s Taylor, memories of last year’s Courier Eureka Rally are tinged with frustration.
“We didn’t have a very good event here last year,” Taylor said.
“We started off well but we really have unfinished business here so we are coming back with the aim to do everything right this time.”
Things will be different in the Subaru WRX Impreza Sti however, with Malcolm Read replacing the retiring Bill Hayes in the co-driver seat. Taylor said the team’s approach to the event will not change and the pair will be right on it from the get go.
“Ultimately our approach has been to get every stage as best we can, so whether that is with Bill or Malcolm that doesn’t change.”
Taylor concedes more preparation has been needed in the lead up to the event as they get to know each other but has every faith that when it comes to the first stage, Read will be right on it.
“We did a test last week down in Tasmania and that was our first time in the car together,” Taylor said.
“As far as doing a recce and being in the heat of competition it will be a first at Ballarat but Malcolm is incredibly experienced as well, very competitive and very enthusiastic and wants to win just as much as I do.
“I have no doubt that it will work from the beginning.”
Taylor expects the 2018 championship to be very competitive but says the stability of the Subaru do Motorsport team will be an advantage.
“We know the AP4 cars are going to be strong, we are not under any illusion about that but also I think we have a very proven package,” she said.
“We’ve got a car we’ve been competing in for three years so we certainly have advantages as well. We know what our strengths are and we will play to them.”
Returning to the ARC in 2018 and flying the Victorian flag is Glen Raymond in his newly purchased Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX. Raymond, with experienced co-driver Kate Catford, says it was the level of competition that has lured him back to the ARC.
“I have always enjoyed competing at the top level of the sport, and enjoyed chasing and winning the Victorian Rally Championship last year,” Raymond explained.
“I think rallying is one of the ultimate challenges, and look forward to competing against Australia’s best.”
As a relative local, Raymond knows the challenges the Ballarat roads can throw at competitors.
“There is such a varied amount of surface changes and speed changes in this event, from twisty sandy roads to flat out hard packed gravel with speeds approaching 200 kilometres per hour,” explains Raymond.
“It is a test for both driver and co-driver to get it right. It really rewards good pace notes and teamwork between the driver and co-driver.
“You have to put a lot of trust in your co-driver to leave it flat over a crest, no matter how deceptive it looks.”
While Taylor, Evans and Bates might be favourites to take out the round and an early championship lead, there is no shortage of challengers in the field.
Old rivals Adrian Coppin and Glen Raymond line up for The Courier Eureka Rally after absences from the ARC and young guns Lewis Bates and Wayne Morton will be biting at their heels.
Add in the likes of Brad Markovic, John O’Dowd and Craig Brooks, graduates of last year’s ARC2 class, there is no doubt battles will be fierce throughout the field.
The Courier Eureka Rally also plays host to the Focus on Furniture Victorian Rally Championship this weekend.
Teams will gather in Camp St, Ballarat, from 8:30am on Saturday morning before heading off to complete eight stages, covering 123.5 competitive kilometres.
Sunday will see teams do battle on a further eight stages over 91 kilometres before returning to the Rally Hub service park at Ballarat Airport for a podium presentation.
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