2007 ARC a bonus for privateers
The expected lack of factory-supported entries in this year’s Australian Rally Championship could prove to be a real bonus opportunity for privateer entrants. Chances of a privateer podium finish are a very real possibility when you consider that at the present time only two manufacturers – Toyota and Ford – have committed to the 2007 ARC. Subaru Australia may concentrate on the tarmac scene, as they did last year, and Alan Heaphy’s Team Mitsubishi Ralliart are still awaiting the announcement of funding for this year’s program, but are only a 50-50 chance of fielding a car.
With Ford embarking on a development program for their new 4WD Fiestas and Toyota developing their new S2000 car, the opportunity for a leading privateer to find themselves in a top three position in an ARC event is very real. Given the head start that Toyota will have going into the ARC with their proven Group N (P) Corollas, they should easily take out the Championship, but the other two leading spots are not at all a foregone conclusion. The question is – can Ford hold out a leading privateer and deny them a spot on the podium?
While most of the leading privateers have yet to announce their programs, just a handful are hopeful of being able to front up when the first event starts in just over 10 weeks. Former triple Australian Rally Champion, Cody Crocker, has been linked to an appearance in one or more rounds of the ARC since plans for an attack on the Production World Championship came to nought after the Les Walkden-run team failed to find sufficient funds for their ambitious program. Crocker would be the one most likely to score maximum points if the team’s ARC plans came to fruition.
Western Australia’s Dean Herridge is also looking for sufficient funding to undertake the full ARC in an Impreza, while rumours continue to circulate that the previous Subaru Australia factory driver may be linked with another high-profile competitor in a 2-car team of Imprezas this year.
Victorian Will Orders will be seen at the wheel of a Subaru Impreza and will start as the hottest favourite amongst a handful of leading privateers. Orders impressed at the wheel of a Impreza WRX last year with a good turn of speed and has matured into a consistent performer and is capable of taking it up to the factory teams on a good day.
But from that point on, the the ARC privateers battle looks to run out of depth. Of the other possibilities, the winner of the 2006 SA round of the Championship, Toyota Rally SA, local Steve Glenney has already sold his Impreza and plans of competing this year hinge on being offered a factory-supported drive.
Fellow South Australian, Jack Monkhouse, is trying to sell his Evo 7 Lancer due to lack of funds and will be seen at the wheel of his trusty Datsun 180B in the South Australian Championship. Martin Lintott will drive a Bates-prepared Corolla in 2007 and is capable of mixing it with the factory cars on occasions. As with all the leading privateers, funding to enable them to compete in all six rounds could be the stumbling block.
Also on the ‘no show’ privateers list are Mark Thompson, Benni Tirant, Jamie Neale and Brad Goldsbrough who are not only without a drive but also without a car. That could change, however, if a more equitable playing field was provided to encourage these talented few to take the plunge once more.
This year’s ARC looks like being the most open one for quite some time. It’s just a pity that the leading privateers who mount the podium this season have even fewer opportunities to continue their careers at someone else’s expense in the future.