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This year’s Experts Cup Rally had many parallels with the 2006 event - the weather, the road conditions and even some of the results were similar.

The WA Car Club used the same formula as the Experts Cup last year, that is, to run pace noting recce in the morning and rally competition in the afternoon. Using their own pace notes, competitors contested six special stages on the sometimes-demanding roads of Wellington Dam in Collie.

With a relatively small field, the opportunity to gain a few more championship points would have been a bonus for those who’d entered. It was fair to say that with the structure of the calendar (the Forest Rally was only four weeks previously), teams with battle wounds and mechanical gremlins from the Forest Rally may have found the time frames tight in which to turn cars around.

James Anderson and Ben Searcy started as car one in their Spec C WRX. For a change, the conditions may not have been too challenging for car one. After the overnight rains, a drier Saturday and a few recce cars helping to compact the surface, the usual gravel-sweeping role may not have been such an issue.

In SS1, Anderson/Searcy were fifth quickest through the stage. Winners of last year’s Experts Cup, Alex Stone and Dianna Madlener, set the opening pace in their WRX, sharing the same time for the stage with Leigh Hines/Stuart Percival in their WRX. Second quickest through SS1 were husband and wife Dennis & Jacquie Dunlop, in their Lancer Evo 7.

It was to become a battle between these three teams all day. Kevin Sleep/Alex Kirkhouse did not have a good start to their day. The brakes on their Honda Civic gave trouble from the moment they left the start line and the pair had to drive steadily through the first two stages before service. Others seemed to be literally flying. Blair Pugh/Anthony Chudleigh gave spectators on SS1 a good thrill, blasting by in their extremely rapid MK2 Escort.

SS2 provided a trouble-free run for most teams. The dust-free stages and good grip gave excellent traction on the drying roads, however Justin Kinnear/Adam Pearson did have a small drama in their Lancer Evo 7. The car broke a driveshaft, which slowed progress slightly and took some time to rectify in the following service. Regardless, the pair finished SS2 with a tenth fastest stage time.

SS3 was the longest stage of the rally. At a shade over 26km, both cars and competitors got a good workout. Lee McIlroy/Steve Vass had finally found some reliable pace from their WRX. The pair had set an eighth fastest stage time for SS3, sharing the placing with Kinnear/Pearson. Doug Tostevin/Alan Cook were also going quickly, taking seventh on SS3 in their Subaru Legacy RS.

After a short regroup out in the forest, teams tackled SS4 before service. The stage was a repeat of SS1. Further drying roads had increased grip and competitors pushed harder through the stage.
Perhaps this is what brought Rob Herridge and Eliot Della Maddalena undone. The pair had been around fourth place earlier in the day, before having an altercation with the bush in SS4 which spelt instant retirement. Sleep/Kirkhouse also had to retire before SS4; the Civic broke a crucial engine mount and with a stage to go to service, the potential mechanical damage was too major to take the risk.

SS5 was the penultimate stage and the start of the night stages. With only two stages to the finish, it would be easy to think that teams would simply maintain their pace and hold their current positions. This was definitely not the case, with some finding extra effort to make up places on the leading crews.

Trying very hard was Graeme Miles and new co-driver Tara Gulvin. The pair drove surprisingly fast on SS5 and were rewarded with a third fastest stage time. Unfortunately the new-found turn of speed was not to continue. The pair had clutch, and then gearbox problems on the closing stage with their WRX.

Mark Cameron/Ian Deboer were having a troubled rally too. A relatively minor electrical problem earlier in the day had got worse as the day progressed. Before the start of SS6, the Suzuki Swift Gti had a completely drained battery and the team was forced into retirement.

One last long stage was all that separated crews and officials from a well-deserved drink. The dark had also brought a rapidly falling temperature to Collie, and many competitors looked forward to somewhere warmer to be than outside in the cold.

The rally did have a few last tricks up its sleeve before competition ended. Brother and sister, Tom and Nerralie Wilde, had set times as fast as fifth earlier in the day. Unfortunately the pair put their Mazda 323 GTX off the road in SS6 and became stuck. This effectively ruined any chance of a good result.

Mike Anderson and Emma Plane rounded out the weekend’s retirements in SS6, with a broken rear driveshaft in their Spec C WRX.

With Duetime back on board for the WARC, provisional results were quickly calculated, after keeping everyone informed during the day with live results online and via SMS.

Geoff Leatt-Hayter and John White brought their Ford Escort MK2 to a tidy tenth place. Ninth went to Trevor Chudleigh and Tamara Adams in their Toyota Sprinter with Kinnear/Pearson taking eighth. Pugh/Chudleigh were fastest two wheel drive of the day, collecting seventh outright along the way. McIlroy/Vass had a trouble-free run and were rewarded with sixth, behind Tostevin/Cook in fifth.

Anderson/Searcy were the fastest Group N car and finished fourth outright. Dunlop/Dunlop had put up a good fight for Mitsubishi and ended the day on the podium in third place. Sharing some fastest stage times and pushing all day, Hines/Percival were rewarded with second place. Showing the form that had won them the 2006 WARC, Stone and Madlener set the fastest stage time on all six special stages. The pair won the Experts Cup outright by 37 seconds and repeated last year’s victory.

Thanks to the WA Car Club and the tireless efforts put in by those who organise and run two state and one ARC rally in WA every year. Thanks also to all volunteer officials who gave up their time and provided resources to make the rally a success.

Lastly, thanks to the Town of Collie for their support and making rally visitors feel welcome.

The next rally is the Donnelly Mill Rally, scheduled for Saturday, July 28.
Details will shortly be online at: www.wacarclub.com.au

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