After attending the AIS together on the CAMS Rally Driver Development Program, Australian Rally Championship competitors, and friends, Paul Batten and Glen Raymond, teamed up last weekend to compete in Round One of the Victorian Rally Championship and RallyDrive Excel Rally Series, the Cerberus Stages.

After a headline-filled lead-up and a generous offer by Excel Series competitor, John Ernst, to lend Paul the car, the pair returned the favor with a great run, resulting in first place 2WD, first Excel, and an incredible eighth outright in a field of 40 starters.

After competing in last year’s Excel series in the Hyundai / Kangan Batman TAFE Excel, things didn’t look good for Batten after withdrawing in the days leading up to the event. However, an amazing offer by competitor, John Ernst after his navigator Bronni Metha, who was ruled out with illness, saw Batten call Raymond at 8pm on the night before the rally.

Both young drivers, Batten and Raymond have a strong list of achievements to their names, with Raymond a regular in the ARC top five and preparing to drive the Toyota Corolla Group N(P) car in this year’s ARC. Batten is the winner of last year’s ARC Privateers’ Challenge.

“I was really keen to compete in the rally and when I heard the offer from John I didn’t take long to decide,” Batten said. “It really is an amazing offer when you consider that John came third in the series last year. Glen and I had joked about a run in the Excel before and I was wrapped to have him along for the ride. We knew it would be good fun, but underestimated it by a long shot!”

Sporting the unique side window labels of “The Bat / RAYMO”, the team headed off to the first stage ready for action. It didn’t take long for the dynamic duo to turn heads, with the car running just outside the top ten after the first loop of stages. The team bettered stage times set by turbo 4WD, and highly modified 2WD cars in the standard class 1.5 litre Excel.

“I think people have the impression that you have to thrash these cars to get the stage times. I was surprised to see that Paul just drives the car smoothly and keeps the momentum flowing,” Raymond said.

“Raymo brought a unique style of navigating to the table for sure,” Batten added. “I don’t think I have ever been laughing while driving around a corner sideways at 130km/h before,” he laughed. “The funniest was the second run of the spectator point. Raymo was amping me up so I knew I had to do something spectacular to quieten him down, but it definitely didn’t work. He let out a big ‘yeeaah’ as soon as I chucked the car in, and I was laughing by the time we came out the other side,” Batten recalled.

The team had a warm reception from the spectators, and would surely have gained a few fans. The call of the day went to Raymond with “I don’t think I have giggled that much since I was a little girl”.

After finishing strongly, despite some well worn tyres, the team were treated to a champagne podium presentation, much of the spoils of which finding its way to car owner, John Ernst, who had been ably assisted by brother Will and son Tim in the service park.

“I was really satisfied with how the day went,” Batten said. “I think we controlled our speed really well, and did a good job. We returned the car without a scratch on it and had a great time in the process. It was great to get out in the Excel series again, and good to see the new faces. I think this year will be a competitive one.”

After the success of the Cerberus Stages, thoughts turn to round one of the ARC for Raymond.

“I have a lot of respect for Glen as a driver, and I am sure he will do a great job in the Toyota this year,” Batten said.

Future prospects are less certain for Batten, who despite great results last year and class topping fitness at the AIS, is not committing to the full ARC.

“I made the decision to sell my Subaru after last year’s win for a few reasons, but probably the biggest one is that I don’t have the structure around me to take the next step forward. I have always run my own team and the stress really takes its toll on you as a driver.

“After talking to Vicky, the Sports Psychologist at the AIS, I realised that I can’t show my abilities behind the wheel without the right team structure in place around me. Rallying is really a team sport. A huge amount of work goes on in the background, and when you don’t have this under control as a driver, it affects your performance on the stages.

“The way forward for me is in a prepared car and I’m looking at all of the options available to me. I’m working hard to have a motorsport program this year,” Batten explained.

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