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The Australian Rally Championship (ARC) took a step forward in 2017, with close competition and a string of new AP4 cars appearing on entry lists for the first time. While competitor numbers were still disappointingly low for some events, there is a definite increase in momentum for a championship that once boasted big budget factory teams from Subaru, Toyota and Mitsubishi. Subaru and Toyota are back battling it out for the ARC title, and despite their budgets being minuscule compared to the ‘glory days’ of the 1990s and 2000s, they clearly see that the championship is on the right track, and moving in a forward direction.
With limited competitor numbers over the five qualifying rounds, choosing a Top 10 driver list proved difficult.
The list only includes drivers who regularly contested ARC rounds or performed on the international stage, and so state champions, for example, weren’t necessarily considered. The order of those listed is bound to be controversial and generate plenty of chat around the workshop and on social media, but that’s the whole point of such a list. So, without further ado, we present our Top 10 Australian rally drivers of 2017.
Nathan Quinn

Nathan Quinn won his first national title in 2017. Photo: Dave King

1. Nathan Quinn

The 2017 Australian Rally Champion, Quinn thoroughly deserves not only his first national title, but also his ranking as our number one rally driver in Australia.
In many ways, his championship success is one for the battler. Driving an ageing Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 against factory supported Subarus and Toyotas, and new-wave technology AP4 cars, Quinn was a model of consistency.
Round three in Canberra was his low point of the season, including a Heat 2 retirement, but other than that, the Coffs Harbour star was the class of the field. Coping with the extreme pressure on home soil at Rally Australia proved no problems as he first hammed it up, dressing as one of the Mario Brothers at the ceremonial start, before displaying nerves of steel as he went on to win all three heats and claim the title. Money, or lack thereof, is the only thing that stands between Quinn and even greater international success, and his future will be one that will be closely scrutinised.
Nathan Quinn at Rally Australia 2017

Nathan Quinn on his way to victory at Rally Australia 2017. Photo: Dave King

2. Brendan Reeves

For a driver who spends so much time in a rally car testing and training other drivers, Reeves did remarkably few rallies in 2017. Nevertheless, after an incredible 2016 season he again showed that he is arguably Australia’s fastest rally driver. He started by setting rally-winning times in his Subaru at the Eureka Rally, despite only contesting the state championship component of the event.
Reeves blitzed the field across the Tasman at the Goldrush Coromandel Rally, winning at a canter in a rented Mazda 2 AP4, that even saw him taking stages from local hero and WRC star, Hayden Paddon.
The Victorian shipped the same Mazda to Rally Australia and was easily the quickest of those not in WRC-spec machinery, only for an uncharacteristic roll early on day two. Like many before him, Reeves is a rare talent just waiting for his lucky break.
Rally driver Brendan Reeves

A limited 2017 program didn't stop Brendan Reeves from impressing. Photo: Peter Whitten

Brendan Reeves Rally Australia 2017

Rally Australia ended badly for Reeves, but he showed his speed once again. Photo: Dave King

3. Harry Bates

Bates’ disastrous end of the season, where he completed just four stages in his final two events, shouldn’t overshadow what, until then, had been a stellar year. He became the youngest ARC event winner when he took out the Eureka Rally in Victoria, and a run-away win on home soil in Canberra had him within arm’s reach of his first championship, but the decision to switch to the brand new and unproven Yaris AP4 couldn’t have gone any worse for the team.
But the car, and Bates, did show their potential with some impressive speed that shone some much-needed light on an otherwise dismal season end.
More so than any of the current ARC crop, Harry Bates has time on his side. If he decides to focus on the Australian Rally Championship in the seasons to come, he’s likely to rack up multiple national titles. You feel, however, that Bates has bigger fish to fry, with a move to Europe high on the agenda. It’s a move that may happen sooner, rather than later.
Toyota rally driver Harry Bates

Harry Bates has his eyes on a move to Europe in the future.

Harry Bates Toyota Yaris AP4

The new Yaris AP4 has been unreliable, but has shown glimpses of brilliance. Photo: Dave King

4. Molly Taylor

The country’s first ever female rally champion completed what could easily be called the perfect title defence.
In a Subaru that was clearly heavier and had less power than its rivals, Taylor set about doing just as she did in 2016 – banking as many points as possible in each round and letting the title result look after itself.
Her driving was again measured, fast and error free, and when Harry Bates struck major engine problems in South Australia, a second Australian Rally Championship was hers to lose. The Sydneysider did her job but, almost unbelievably, the bullet-proof WRX haemorrhaged an engine late on the second day at Rally Australia, and her dreams of going back-to-back were in tatters. With an increasing list of AP4 cars now appearing and stage times tumbling, Subaru have the driver to do the job and get them back on top – whether they have the car to do it remains to be seen.
Subaru rally driver Molly Taylor

Molly Taylor came incredibly close to clinching her second Australian Rally Championship title. Photo: Dave King

Subaru's WRX was reliable until the final round, which cost Taylor the title. Photo: Peter Whitten

5. Eli Evans

The season started well for Eli Evans, with a fourth and a first place in the first round, but things quickly turned sour. He crashed his rented AP4 Peugeot in Western Australia, before niggling development issues with the team’s brand new Mini Cooper AP4 halted their progress. A family bereavement meant the Melbourne electrician missed the South Australian round, but he bounced back well at Rally Australia with a string of impressive stage times that showed the potential of the Mini, and was a timely reminder of the three-time champion’s talent. The new Mini has cost the Evans team mega dollars to build and develop, and they’ll be hell-bent on getting a return on their investment in the 2018 season.
If the team can get the car right, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that Eli Evans is your 2018 championship favourite.
Eli Evans

Eli Evans showed glimpses of his best form in the new Mini Cooper. Photo: Geoff Ridder

Eli Evans Mini Cooper AP4

Evans' AP4 Mini Cooper has already become a crowd favourite at rallies. Photo: Dave King

6. Craig Brooks

Fourth in the Australian Rally Championship is a testament to Craig Brooks’ determination and never-say-die attitude to rallying. The Tasmanian’s car was destroyed by fire after he rolled badly in Canberra last season, but driving Molly Taylor’s title-winning Subaru this season, he was a revelation in the championship.
Of course there’ll be some who are quick to point out that Brooks’ success was only a result of a lack of depth in the ARC field, but like in any competition, you can only beat the opposition.
Brooks scored good points in four of the five rounds this year (he missed the WA event), and will head into the 2018 season with a proven car and full of confidence. Expect more speed from him again next year!
Rally driver Craig Brooks

Craig Brooks had a stellar season in the 2016 championship winning Subaru WRX.

Craig Brooks Subaru WRX

Fourth place in the ARC was a great reward for a consistent season for Craig Brooks. Photo: Peter Whitten

7. Tony Sullens

The former Targa Tasmania winner and Citroen factory driver, from Gosford in New South Wales, didn’t have a lot of luck in 2017, but he showed that he still has good speed. A third in Heat 2 at the Forest Rally in WA was the best result of the season for the Impreza WRX driver, but that really didn’t show his full potential, and a ninth place season finish was more a case of ‘what might have been’. Hopefully we’ll see more of Sullens again in 2018.
Tony Sullens

Tony Sullens pushing hard at Rally SA. Photo: Peter Whitten

8. Brad Markovic

The Western Australian privateer started the season well in his Subaru, with solid points scoring finishes in Victoria, WA and Canberra. Disappointingly, a severe back injury soon put paid to his season when he required major surgery that he is still recovering from. A fit Markovic is set to return in 2018 with an even faster car, and will likely climb the rankings.
Rally driver Brad Markovic

A back injury halted Brad Markovic's season. Photo: Peter Whitten

9. John O’Dowd

O’Dowd deserves his place in the top 10 as much for his commitment to rallying as for his brilliant third outright in the Australian Rally Championship. Travelling from WA to all rounds of the championship, as well as contesting his own state series, meant the Subaru driver was rarely out of the seat, and an ARC2 crown was the perfect ending to a consistent season. Clearly not the fastest driver in the field, O’Dowd did, however, show what can be achieved with a good team and an error-free year.
Rally driver John O'Dowd

Consistency was the key to John O'Dowd's season. He finished third outright in the ARC. Photo: Peter Whitten

10. Marcus Walkem

Former ARC 4WD champion Walkem gets his place in the top 10 simply because of his opening event of the season, where he finished fifth outright in the Eureka Rally in Victoria. Driving a Lancer Evo 9, the Tasmanian looked set for a stellar year, but an accident in WA ended his season - and the life of his car! Nevertheless, the speed was there, and with a new Race Torque built Peugeot 208 AP4 on the way, Walkem will be one to watch in 2018.
Rally driver Marcus Walker

Fifth place in the opening round of the ARC gets Marcus Walkem a place in the Top 10. Photo: John Doutch

Watch the full highlights from the 2017 CAMS Australian Rally Championship HERE. View the full 2017 Australian Rally Championship pointscore HERE.

Related news:

https://rallysportmag.com/quinn-wins-australian-rally-championship/ https://rallysportmag.com/interview-nathan-quinn/  
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