WA to make Forest Rally history in 2023

The Make Smoking History Forest Rally will celebrate a special milestone in 2023 as this year’s event marks the 50th anniversary of when the Bosch Motorsport Australia Rally Championship (ARC) first ran in Western Australia.

First heading out west in 1974, the ARC has held a round in WA every year since, excluding 2020 and 2021 when no event was run or Championship awarded as a result of COVID-19, making it the longest serving state as a result.

There have been a handful of custodians responsible for putting on an ARC round in the 50 years, including the Western Australia Car Club, who has been the promoter since taking charge in 1985.

Over the years, the ARC round has taken place in many different areas of the state such as Mundaring, Collie, Grimwade and Perth before settling on its most recent locations of Bussellton, Bunbury and Nannup.

Peter Lang and George Shepheard won the first ever ARC event in WA. Photo: Giant Killers 1975

Its long and illustrious history has seen a collection of rally royalty grace its popular gravel and tarmac roads – many of which have stood on the top step of the event’s podium.

Since New South Welshmen Peter Lang and George Shepheard guided their Torana XU 1 to victory in the 1974 Semperit 1600, there have been 25 different winners, including the Western Australia Rally Championship only events in 2020 and 2021.

Boasting the most victories within the 50-year period is West Australian Ross Dunkerton, who won an ARC WA round on seven occasions – his first coming in 1975 and his last coming in 1991.

Symbolic of a change in eras, the next most successful driver in WA is Australian rally icon Neal Bates, who won the event six times alongside his long-time co-driver Coral Taylor, with their first victory coming just two years after Dunkerton’s final win.

Neal Bates and Coral Taylor were the first crew to win the WA ARC three times in a row.

Between 1993 and 1995, Bates and Taylor set the record for the most consecutive victories on WA soil with a hat-trick of wins – breaking Dunkerton’s previous record of two in 1977 and 1978.

Their record wouldn’t last long though as the legendary Possum Bourne would soon mark his dominance in the state as the New Zealander won a consecutive five events between 1998 and 2002, which included sharing top honours with Bates in the 2001 Respect Yourself Forest Rally.

Outside of the aforementioned three, there were plenty of other high profile stars to enjoy a victory in Western Australia, including both Simon and Eli Evans, Cody Crocker, Wayne Bell, Greg Carr, Scott Pedder and Molly Taylor and most recently, Harry Bates.

Possum Bourne in action during his 2001 victory.

While there has been a large talent pool of drivers to secure success there, there have been just 10 individuals over the course of the 50 years to hold the ever-important role of Clerk of Course.

Undoubtedly the longest serving individual is the current Clerk of Course in Ross Tapper OAM, who has held the top job for more than three and half decades and has only missed three events during that 36 year period.

“These past 50 years has been quite a ride and there have been many amazing memories over the course of that period,” Tapper said.

“To be at the top of the helm of this wonderful event for such a long time is an honour. Of course, there have been plenty of challenges, but overall it’s been a wonderful experience.

“WA is the only state to have continuously run a round of the ARC since 1974, with the exception of 2020 and 2021, and that is a remarkable achievement, so every single individual who has been involved throughout these past five decades should be incredibly proud.”

The 2023 Make Smoking History Forest Rally will celebrate 50 years of the ARC in WA in Bunbury and Nannup on 19-21 May.

Harry Bates and John McCarthy were the last crew to win the Make Smoking History Forest Rally.
Photo: Dakar Press Team Australia