2017 – The Year in Review
The South Australian rally fraternity was greeted with the news that there would be five MRF Tyres S.A. Rally Championship events for 2017, instead of the three of the last few years.
There were to be two new events, both blind rallies (not pacenoted), Lightforce Rally of the Heartland near Burra and South-West Stages Rally, near Heywood in Victoria.
It must be said that there wasn’t universal approval in the rally community for blind events, but most agreed that this was more than offset by having two new rallies.
Also, two of the current rallies were to be run for the last time, although this wasn’t known at the time.
RAA SOUTHERN RALLY
Opening round was the RAA Southern Rally, through the Second Valley Forest and Balquhidder cattle property on the State’s south coast on May 7.
Fulfilling the promise that they had showed at times in 2016, the Mt. Gambier crew of Aaron Bowering and Nathan Lowe (Subaru WRX) took the win by 45 seconds from Gary Brown and Mike Dale (Galant VR4), only two seconds ahead of Ben Calder and Steve Glenney (Subaru WRX).
Zayne Admiraal and Matthew Heywood’s Subaru WRX blew its engine a few hundred metres in to the first stage. It had been a bad few days for the pair, with an oil leak in a rebuilt engine, then Admiraal crushing his big toe beneath a four-post hoist two days prior to the rally.
Whilst leading on the Bedlam Flat stage, Brown was in trouble when a rear brake caliper bracket broke, temporary repairs meaning that the car ran with only front brakes for the rest of the event.
Fastest on Bedlam Flat were Neil and Andrea Gehan, were on fire – literally – despite an engine bay fire in their WRX, an undertray fitted after water problems on the previous year’s Lightforce Rally S.A. causing the extractors to overheat fittings and electrical wiring. With the fire extinguished at the end of stage, they went on to finish fourth outright.
Tarmac specialists Craig Haysman and Julie Boorman, running a Triumph TR7 V8 on dirt for the first time, were out on the long Springs, rolling after hitting a stump.
Matt Selley and Hamish McKendrick’s Connaught Warrior-powered Escort Mk II hit the lead on Springs, only to have the throttle cable break on the following Jones 2, causing them to miss the following two stages. After rejoining, the set two more fastest times to eventually be classified 12th.
The Escort BDG of Wayne Mason and Dave Langfield, now the leading 2WD, set fastest time on Hayfield West, before retiring on the following penultimate Balquhidder Back.
Paul Knopka, in his first open rally, and Neil Brannum finished fifth in their Subaru WRX, ahead of Marc Butler and Peter Sims’ Honda Civic, the first 2WD.
Philip Kerr and Jenny Cole’s Datsun was first Classic, eighth outright.
Simon Wenzell and Brett Mason-Fyfe’s Nissan Bluebird was the only finisher in the Clubman Series.
Unfortunately it was possibly the last time that the region will be used for rallying due to financial cut-backs to ForestrySA.
LIGHTFORCE RALLY OF THE HEARTLAND
Held for the first time, blind rally, was a two-day event in the state’s mid-north for classic cars over June 3-4, with MRF Tyres South Australian Rally Championship round 2 on the first day only.
Service park and accommodation centred around the Paxton Square heritage area of the old copper mining town of Burra.
In the two-day Classic category, the Datsun Violet of Simon Evans and Ben Searcy dominated from the opening, aptly-named Long Stage (78 kms), fastest on all but one of the 10 stages.
Round 1 winners Aaron Bowering and Nathan Lowe (Subaru WRX) led the SARC category, from Gary Brown and Mike Dale (Galant VR4) and Zayne Admiraal and Matthew Heywood (Subaru WRX).
The first stage, aptly-named Long Stage was 78 km, followed by Turbine Row, a spectacular 9.7 km ribbon of road through the Mt. Cone windfarm, featuring many blind crests.
David McDonough and Lyn Wilson’s Mitsubishi Evo, fourth in SARC, retired with a cracked transfer case.
Sitting fourth in Classic and fifth in SARC, Matt Selley and John Caldicott’s Escort Mk II ran for 3 km with a flat rear tyre on the night running of Long Stage, before going sideways into a concrete post, ending their rally.
At the end of the first leg, Evans led the Classic category from the Mercedes Benz 450 SLC of Stuart Bowes and Mark Nelson (the only others to take a stage win) by 13 seconds with Luke Olholm and Gordon Trigg (Datsun 260Z) 5 minutes in arrears, in turn four minutes ahead of Bruce and Darrin Field (Mercedes Benz 280S).
Despite Admiraal being fastest on all but the first and last stage, blinding times on the two Long Stages saw Bowering and Lowe take the S.A. Rally Championship win by 2 minutes 35 seconds from Brown and Dale, with a 33 second gap to Admiraal and Heywood.
Neil and Andrea Gehan’s WRX STi was fourth, ahead Ross Kingham and Lisi Phillips’ Volvo 240, the first 2WD.
Sunday began with a run through the Waterloo Wind Farm, not quite as daunting as Turbine Row, before Into The East near Worlds End, then heading north again for two back-to-back runs of Long Stage Reversed.
Evans and Searcy’s winning margin was a huge 9 minutes 13 seconds over Bowes and Nelson, Olholm and Trigg a further four minutes back whilst a rapid run through Long Stage Reversed 1 brought Barry Lowe and Helen Pearl-Lowe up to fourth in their fearsome Commodore.
Clubman only ran on Sunday, Ian and Leigh Weaver’s Magna out-surviving Kevin Raedel and Patrick Hughes’ Falcon XR6 to take the win.
COPYWORLD WALKY 100 RALLY
It was back to the Robertstown area on August 12 for the third round of the 2017 MRF Tyres South Australian Rally Championship, which marked 10 years of Copyworld’s naming rights sponsorship of the Walkerville All Cars Club event.
The Mitsubishi Evo VI crew of Declan Dwyer and Craig Adams became only the second back-to-back winners in the 33 year history of the event, fastest on all 12 stages along the way. In total it was Dwyer’s fourth win and Adams’ third in the event.
With Gary Brown away overseas, Mike Dale filled the navigator seat in Paul Heenan’s identical VR4.
Dwyer and Adams finished one minute 41 seconds ahead of pointscore leaders Aaron Bowering and Nathan Lowe in their Subaru WRX, in turn three minutes 26 seconds in front of third-placed Paul Heenan and Mike Dale’s Ralliart Mitsubishi VR4.
Dwyer and Adams were not registered for SARC points.
After sitting in third behind Dwyer and Bowering on the opening two stages, Northern Territory’s Ben Kittle and Caroline Vale (Mitsubishi Evo X) had to drive the last 3 km of Pumping Station 1 with a flat rear tyre, costing more than 3 minutes and dropping them to 15th.
This moved Shane Alker and Karien Heimsohn (Nissan 200 SX) up to third, a second ahead of Heenan, in his first rally for three years, equal fourth with Marc Butler and Peter Sims (Honda Civic).
The rerun of the opening three stages saw Dwyer and Bowering pulling away from the rest of the field, Kittle, Heenan and Alker battling over the scraps.
After the first runs of Hill Big One, Juliayne and Roast, Kittle had climbed back to eighth, courtesy of his second-fastest times to Dwyer, whilst Alker dropped to sixth on very worn tyres, behind Butler and NSW’s Mark Beard and Scott Beckwith (Subaru Impreza RS).
The same three stages were then re-run in the dark, Dwyer and Bowering again leading the field, with Alker, now on new tyres, tying for third on Hill Big One 2 with Heenan and Butler.
Juliayne 2 saw Dwyer head Alker by seven seconds, with Bowering and Kittle only a second further back.
Dwyer was six seconds up on Bowering in the final Roast 2, running along the top of the local range, with Alker third, just one second ahead of Butler.
Alker finished fourth outright and first 2WD, eight seconds behind Heenan, with Butler 21 seconds in arrears, in turn one minute up on Kittle.
Having led Classic all day, Phil Kerr and Jenny Cole’s Datsun 1600 finished 10th outright, well ahead of Bruce and Darrin Field’s Mercedes Benz 280 SE and Aaron Lowe and Matt Monto’s Commodore.
Refreshingly, there were only two retirements in the field, both due to electrics – Craig Haysman and Julie Boorman’s Triumph TR7 V8 and Steve Rowe and David Rudham’s Celica GT4.
LIGHTFORCE RALLY SA
Declan Dwyer and Craig Adams (Mitsubishi Evo VI) dominated the MRF Tyres S.A. Rally Championship component of Lightforce Rally SA, (16-17 September) fastest in all 10 stages.
Their winning margin over the two heats was a total of three minutes 28 seconds.
The shorter format this year saw the SARC crews not run during the day on Saturday, using only the four night stages used by the ARC competitors.
With two runs each of Goldfields and Trial Hill Reversed (up), Dwyer grabbed the lead from the beginning, from NT’s Ben Kittle and Caroline Vale (EVO X), points leaders Aaron Bowering and Nathan Lowe (Subaru WRX), Dave McDonough and Darren Masters (EVO VI) and Matt Selley and Hamish McKendrick (Ford Escort Mk II).
Selley was also having fun chasing Frank Kelley’s similar Escort in ARC Classic.
First car to strike trouble was Stephen Mee and Matthew Harriot’s 2WD Corolla with a broken driveshaft.
Sitting seventh outright and second 2WD, Marc Butler and Peter Sims’ Honda Civic lost time with a stick through the radiator, losing time on Trial Hill but coming back after repairs to set respectable times.
Next to strike trouble was Bowering, with a flat tyre on the rerun of Goldfields, whilst McDonough was out from third when Masters became very ill.
Ross Kingham and Lisi Phillips’ usually reliable Volvo 242, dropped out with engine problems.
Dwyer finished the night one minute 10 seconds ahead of Kittle with Selley third 43 seconds behind, but 11 seconds ahead of Gary Brown and Mike Dale (Mitsubishi Galant VR4) whilst Bowering and Lowe were down in 17th.
For Heat 2 on Sunday there were six stages, consisting of two each of Crawford and Corryton Park and one each of Telephone Road and Buddys.
Dave Langfield (who had been in Intro on Saturday with Bruce Paix) replaced Masters in McDonough’s car.
Butler deranged the rear suspension of the Civic on a bank on the opening Crawford, but pushed on for the rest of the event, deciding he would lose less time than carrying out repairs.
Dwyer led from Brown, Kittle and Bowering, with McDonough suffering power steering problems on Telephone Road, rejoining after service.
The second run through Crawford saw fifth-placed Ben Calder and John Caldicott’s WRX STi out after hitting a rock and tearing out brake and clutch lines whilst ninth-placed Dale Cagney and Ken Moore’s EVO III retired with suspension problems.
McDonough returned to set second-fastest time to Dwyer on the first run through Corryton Park, the event’s longest stage, ahead of Kittle and Selley.
The final stage, also through Corryton Park, saw Dwyer finish the day two minutes 17 seconds from Brown, 10 seconds in front of Kittle and Bowering with Selley over two minutes back.
Mee’s driveshaft problems on both days received some compensation a month later when he clinched the ARC2 2WD component at Kennards Rally.
Late in the year it was announced that the organisers of Rally SA would not be running a similar event in 2018.
SOUTH WEST STAGES RALLY
Held for the first time near Heywood, Victoria on 7 October, this was a combined event of SARC and Victorian State Rally Series.
Organised by the SEAC, his was another blind rally.
Nathan Lowe was director of the event and would score points as such, being an average of his current pointscore. However, his wouldn’t be multiplied by 1.5 as would the other competitors.
Bowering needed to finish 11th or higher to take the title.
Navigated by Ross Shephard, things started well for Bowering, fastest on the first five stages before encountering a large kangaroo on the next, limping back to service park without lights and major damage to the radiator and bonnet.
Rushed repairs were done to get the WRX to the finish in the hope of scoring sufficient points.
On the previous stage, third-placed David McDonough and Dave Langfield (Lancer Evo VI) blew the turbo, which started a fire.
Meantime Brown and Dale were up into the lead after Bowering’s problems, going on to win by almost three minutes from a surprise Shane Alker and Karien Heimsohn (Nissan 200 SX), in turn 59 seconds up on Neil and Andrea Gehan (WRX STi), also having their best result of the year.
Paul Knopka and Molly Spalding (Subaru WRX) finished fifth, followed by Marc Butler and Peter Sims (Honda Civic).
Mark Jennings and Kevin Raedel (Falcon XR6) took Clubman honors from Brian Catt and Brian Thomas (Hyundai Excel) and Steven Rowe and Jane Alker (Celica GT4).
Coming home in 10th, Bowering won the SARC Drivers’ title by 11 points from Brown, with Gehan 17.5 points further back. Marc Butler finished fourth and first 2WD, from Paul Knopka and Phillip Kerr.
Mike Dale’s win in the event put him 8 points up on Lowe in the Co-Drivers Championship, with Andrea Gehan third, 57 points in arrears. Peter Sims finished fourth and first 2WD co-driver, from Jennifer Cole and Caroline Vale.
In the Clubman Series, Ian Weaver took the Drivers’ title with 90 points to Steven Rowe on 70 and Simon Wenzel and Andrew Admiraal, both on 50.
Leigh Weaver took the Co-drivers with 90 points to Brett Mason-Fyfe, Darryl Power and Kevin Raedel, each on 50.
The Clubman Series consisted of eligible crews and vehicles in the RAA Southern Rally, Lightforce Rally of the Heartland, WACC Rallysprint and South West Stages Rally.
S.A. RALLYSPRINT SERIES
The series consisted of three rounds at Walky, Mid Murray Motorplex and Tough-As Rallysprint, Pfeiffers Hill.
Bradley Clements, navigated by Johann Du Preez in the first two, and Chelsea Davison in the final, won all three rounds in his Subaru WRX.
Andrew “Stephen Bradbury” Admiraal, co-driven by Darryl Power, Paul Knopka and Jason Lange, took the silver medal, finishing second in each round as others fell by the wayside.
Finishing third in the points was Molly Spalding (Honda Integra), with the late Matthew West navigating in the opening round and Stuart Gregory in the other two.
Molly finished only a point ahead of Daniel Blakemore (Toyota Corolla), with Chris Skinner, who was second in the co-drivers points.
Stuart Gregory was third in the co-drivers series.
Article by John Lemm
Images by Stuart Daddow, Frank Kutsche and John Lemm.