Australia’s Summit Rally Team had almost the perfect start to their Rally America campaign this month, with Will Orders finishing fourth outright and first in the two-wheel drive category of the Oregon Trail Rally.

His team-mate, Ross Allan, had been third in the two-wheel drive class on the final day, only for a mechanical problem to end his rally just before the finish. For a first up effort in the United States, it was a brilliant performance by the small Summit Rally Team.

Based in Melbourne, but on the road with a team of just four people for their 16-week USA adventure, the team has already hit the headlines in America and is attracting unprecedented interest.

Team owner, Hilary Evans (right), was in Oregon to witness the team’s first international event, and says that it was an incredible result.

“Absolutely, it was unbelievable. I classified it as almost history in the making. I think we’re the first rally car team to actually take two cars into the US, so it was very pleasing,” Evans said.

Just getting to the start line for the first of four US events was a monumental taks for the Summit Rally Team.

“It’s been a logistical nightmare, having to prepare a 40 foot container and having to lodge things like carnets  (which included a $140,000 bank guarantee that the cars will come back), and just making sure that we had all the bits and pieces to keep the cars going.

“After the Oregon Trail Rally we sustained an incredible amount of damage to the cars, with the drivers saying it was some of the roughest rallies they’ve ever been on. They were fast roads, but extremely rough with big rocks in them.

“On the Friday I didn’t think we were going to finish the rally, because at the main 40 minute service break both cars came in with what I would call terminal damage. Will’s rear wheels were at a 25 degree angle and all of the control arms were bent, so we put on the last of our spare parts and managed to get the cars back out with three minutes to spare.

“All this was done by the drivers, team members Hayden (Taylor) and Steph (Richards), myself and a couple of volunteers. The guys then went out and still set fastest times.

“We obtained an incredible amount of damage again on the Saturday, and had to use our Pikes Peak suspension to get the cars to the finish. This means we’ve now had to freight more suspension parts from Australia to the US for the next event. And as a result, the budget has already blown out by about 50 per cent. But it’s all a learning curve for the future plans that Summit has,” Evans said.

Summit’s choice of drivers for their US campaign was an interesting one. Will Orders (left) is a former Subaru RS Challenge winner, but Ross Allan is a relatively unknown driver outside Victoria.

It would have been easy to pair Orders with another ‘name’ driver, but Evans says that promoting youth was always his plan.

“I’ve got a strong view, and a long term view, on nurturing the youth in Australian rallying, and I’ve been a follower and a supporter of Will’s for a few years now. This is our first major assault together.

“I’ve always had an eye on Ross, who I’ve known for a while and have watched him driving a Nissan Bluebird very quickly. On some of the stages in Oregon he was only running six or eight seconds behind Will, and that’s a big statement because the roads were extremely challenging, and his car doesn’t have all the sexy parts that Will’s car has. He’s somebody who I think has a big future.”

Already, with Orders catching the headlines with his speed on the first event, he may be targeted by bigger budget teams for the 2013 season.

“There’s a strong possibility that the team could lose Will after this season, because people are taking notice,” Evans adds.

“Rossco presents well, and while he still has to work on certain areas, he’s very talented and he does have the speed. I believe in going for outright wins, and Will and Ross work well together.”

Drivers aside, entering a team in the Rally America series seems a strange business strategy for Summit Innovations.

The company, based in Keysborough in Victoria, is using the rally program to promote its specialised software, which is currently used in the Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) industry.

Summit’s clients currently include KFC, Yum Australia, Hungry Jacks and McDonald’s Australia, who now use the system and product mix exclusively in their Australian stores.

Summit Innovations provides the QSR Speed Of Service software to Hungry Jacks in Australia, and are embarking on an affiliation with their USA subsidiary, Burger King, hence the commitment to the Rally America series.

“Everything that Summit does is left field,” Evans explains. “When we work in a drive-through at a fast food outlet, the cars are timed to the last second, as it is in rallying. To me it’s the perfect branding for the company, and it’s a new way of showing the Americans that we’re coming in to sell our product and gain credibility.

“We have brought in a team that can compete in very challenging and demanding conditions, and come away with a victory.

“When a client asks how we’re going to penetrate into a big country like the US, I can look them straight in the eye – which I’ve already done – and tell them about the rally program.

“Already, with an underfunded team, we’ve beaten big budget teams from the USA and Canada in the first event, so we’re proving that we know what we’re about. It fits hand in hand with our business strategy – it’s fast, and it’s timed to the last 100th of a second, so it’s the perfect marriage for me.”

The four-event program also includes Rally America rounds in Pennsylvania and Maine, while Orders will also contest the iconic Pikes Peak Hill Climb in Colorado in late June.

Evans says that the program, just one event old, has already been a success.

“Absolutely. Had you told me nine months ago when we started the campaign that after the first event we would have one car on the podium and one DNF, then I would have signed the cheque there and then.

“The idea of the Oregon event was to use it as a shakedown for the future events, but on the Friday night I could see the guys were on the pace, so I used Ross Dunkerton’s approach of ‘taking no prisoners’. I told the drivers to damage the cars, but get the results, as I wanted fastest stage times, and we achieved that.

“On the most important stage of the event, which was actually called the Summit stage, where the cars come down Mt Wood, Will was only 10 seconds behind rally winner David Higgins in his Subaru, so we certainly succeeded in ticking all the boxes.”

With his business expanding into the USA and Honduras, things are happening at a great rate of knots for Summit Innovations.

“We’ve just picked up Dunkin’ Donuts as a new customer, and we’re going to be exporting two systems to Guatemala, of all places, and now we have our eyes on Puerto Rico. We have big plans for America, and while they’ll be slower to react than the Central and South American companies, they’ll now have to take notice as we’re playing on their doorstep, not just with our product, but with a very successful racing team.”

Watching the progress of his team from his Melbourne office, Evans is like a proud father watching over his children.

His commitment and financial dedication to their success is incredibly rare, particularly in Australian rallying, and he’s more than happy to sing the praises of his team.

“We have a team of four people in the US, the two drivers, a full-time mechanic (Hayden Taylor) and Steph Richards, who is our PR lady, but is absolutely amazing. At Oregon she was changing wheels and doing everything asked of her.

“We are surviving a bit on a few favours, and there’s a company who I must mention who have helped us out tremendously since the Oregon event.

“Nameless Performance Parts have been invaluable to us. We were supposed to leave for Michigin straight after the Oregon rally, but they generously offered their workshop, so the team have stayed there for the past two weeks getting the cars ready for the next event.

“Nameless have been instrumental in fabricating some parts locally for us, and in feeding the team and giving them somewhere to work, so they have literally saved us thousands and thousands of dollars, and we can’t thank them enough.

“It just proves that the spirit in rallying is evident worldwide. Even at the post-event presentation we handed out some Summit merchandise to people, and we’ve since had people volunteering to come along and help us at the next event.

“It shows how important the grassroots level is in the sport,” he said.

Looking to the future, Evans also has long term plans for the Summit Rally Team, both in Australia and overseas.

“I’ve given Scott Pedder my assurance that Summit will have a presence in the ARC next year, and I’m working very hard at the moment to try and put some deals together,” he stressed.

“While I can’t release any details yet, there will be some international events, and we’re planning on expanding into Asia. At the moment we’re just trying to do the best job on the American campaign, while I’m busy trying to put a few things in place.

“Other than that, all I can say is ‘watch this space’, as we will have a major impact on rallying, both locally and overseas.”

For Summit Rally Team, it seems that 2012 is just the beginning.


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