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Round 4 of the WA State Rally Championship (WARC) and Clubman Rally Series saw competitors descend on the holiday village of Donnelly River in mid September.

Normally a tranquil escape for holiday makers, the village and surrounding tall timber forests were transformed for a colourful and action packed weekend as 35 rally teams took part in what could have been a decisive round for both championships.

Eight special stages would wrap up the rally with at least some of the stages being run in the dark. The Donnelly roads are known for being fast and with steady rains leading up to the event, the rally looked like being a dust-free day.

The Donnelly Rally is set as a compact event and competitors complete pace noting in the morning before starting competition in mid afternoon and carrying on into the evening. First indications were the stages were a little muddy and slippery, however by the time the rally started, the roads had dried out and became perfect for fast competition.

Leading the cars into the forest was the combination of Toby Heyring and Peter Turner in their Spec C WRX. The pair are definite championship contenders and pulled out all stops during the day to attempt to secure a win.

A high placing would definitely help seal their 2008 Championship bid. Unlike tarmac racing, being Car 1 is not always an advantage. In gravel rallying, the first two or three cars usually act as road sweepers for the rest of the field, sweeping the loose gravel off of the racing lines. Heyring/Turner were sixth fastest through SS1, proving the point.

Leigh Hines/Stuart Percival (WRX) were to set the opening pace. Fastest through the short SS1, the pair were also looking toward valuable points. Defending title holders Alex Stone/Dianna Madlener also jumped out of the blocks early, being second fastest through SS1. Brothers Trevor & Anthony Chudleigh did not have a good start to their rally. Half way through SS1 the pair’s Toyota Sprinter blew its engine which resulted in an early retirement.

The results for SS2 were the same as SS1 for first and second place, but this time Heyring/Turner were third quickest.

After the first two stages, the remaining field returned to the old Mill site for the first service break. The stories were already surfacing about the spectacular driving. Dave Thomas/Lee Tierney got a notable mention in their Ford Escort for their hard charging and nail biting cornering. The pair did manage to make it around the corner (just) at the first spectator point, taking the sign post with them!

The first three places for SS3 & SS4 read the same as SS2. Hines/Percival were first, Stone/Madlener second, and Heyring/Turner third.  Just outside the top three were John Macara & Greg Flood in their Lancer Evo 5. The pair, along with Gavin Morgan/Chris Parish in their Evo 3, were trying very hard to break the Subaru stranglehold on the top 10.

Shane Eather & David Burton were a welcome return to the WARC on this event. Eather had been out of action for almost a year whilst he recovered from a shoulder reconstruction. The pair were in fifth place in their WRX after the first service, however a flat tyre on SS3 cost them around a minute.

Husband and, wife Lee & Jo McIlroy were on their first rally in their new Spec C WRX. The first two stages had them well within the top ten before a wayward excursion in SS3 did some panel damage and bent the rear suspension too badly, retiring them from the rally.

After the mid point service the teams were out to contest SS5. Stone/Madlener turned the tables, taking the stage win with Hines/Percival second and Eather/Burton & Heyring/Turner in equal third. Further back, newcomers Craig Wimbridge/Mile Vlasavljevich were setting some very respectable times in their Subaru Legacy, but by the mid way point, the pair had retired. Looking at the results which showed a huge amount of time had been lost in SS3, and by looking at the dented panels on the car, it is presumed that an off-road excursion had put paid to a good start for the pair.

In SS6 Heyring and Turner started a charge. Whilst they didn’t take the stage win, the pair were just three seconds off Hines/Percival’s time. Eather/Burton took another third fastest, working to make up time from the earlier flat tyre.
Behind the 4WD cars, a hard battle was being fought for the 2WD category.

Whilst Thomas/Tierney were running free at the front and consistently setting top ten outright stages times, second and third spots were close. Julian Wright/Jeff Huggins, in their injected Datsun 1200, were swapping stage times with Geoff Leatt-Hayter/John White in their Ford Escort. It wasn’t until the night stages and inadequate lighting saw Leatt-Hayter/White drop back a few places.

After the final service, crews went out to contest the last two stages. Stone/Madlener had dropped around 30 seconds on SS6, finishing seventh and  came back with a vengeance in SS7 & SS8 taking both stage wins. Was it going to be enough to win the rally, though? Heyring/Turner continued to charge hard in SS7, taking another second place before it all came undone in SS8. The pair were pushing hard, and in the dark they slipped off the road and disappointingly ended their rally. So close, yet so far.

Eather/Burton were another pair charging to gain a few places. Unfortunately, an altercation with some trees and the resultant bent rear suspension forced them into retirement after SS7.

As the penultimate rally in the 2008 WARC ended, the top ten results were announced.

In tenth place were Wright/Huggins. It was a giant killing drive for the pair with one of the smallest and naturally-aspirated engines in the entire field. Brother and sister Tom & Nerralie Wilde had a slow start and then picked up their pace to bring their Mazda 323 GTX to ninth place. Thomas/Tierney took 2WD and class honours on their way to a brilliant eighth place just behind Steve Oxley/Aaron Foster (WRX) in seventh. Adrian Broom/Brendon Carr drove well in their WRX , managing a top five stage time during the day and finished sixth outright. Derek Reddie/Karel Foster quietly went about their business during the day, producing a quick drive and fifth place in their Mitsubishi Galant VR4. With only displaying some minor panel damage and a missing tail light, Morgan/Parish finished fourth behind Macara/Flood in third place.

For the duo, it was a case of exorcised demons, bringing the car to the finish line and in a podium place after several retirements during the last two seasons.

The late charge from Stone/Madlener had closed the gap considerably on the lead. The pair finished the Donnelly rally in second place, just 16 seconds adrift of Hines/Percival who took their second Donnelly Rally win in two years.

The WARC title is still a three way battle. Hines/Percival (129 points) lead from Stone/Madlener (108 points) and Heyring/Turner (100 points). All  three can theoretically win the championship.  

The next and final round of the WARC, the Safari Rally in Mundaring, close to Perth, will be the decider.  

Special thanks to the WA Car Club and to the Skipworth family who tirelessly worked to put together the Donnelly Rally. Thanks also to the Donnelly River Holiday Village, Busselton Trade Hire and Shannons for their support. Thanks also to the multitudes of volunteers who assisted in so many ways – their help made the rally possible.

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