Feature: Harry Bates – from casual fan to ARC front-runner
- 23rd May 2016, 1:56am
The Australian Rally Championship has seen numerous drivers come through the ranks in recent years, from the plucky privateers to those looking to reach international glory. Every now and then, a young hotshot comes along, shaking up the establishment and putting the best under pressure. Jordan Mulach takes a closer look at Harry Bates.
That role now belongs to second-generation racer Harry Bates, the son and nephew of iconic Australian rally drivers Neal and Rick. The 22-year-old Canberran made his ARC debut in 2015, driving a Toyota Corolla in his home rally. A third place in the second heat was a sign of things to come, putting more experienced drivers to shame in his first event.
Fast forward to the beginning of 2016 and we find Bates behind the wheel of another Corolla, this time built to Super 2000 specifications, boasting all-wheel-drive and a completely race-bred chassis. At the opening round of the season in WA, Bates further shook the tree by winning the first heat of the weekend, exceeding expectations.
Although the overall lead was eventually lost, he was still able to secure his first ever round podium, only just finishing behind winner Simon Evans. Next up is the Rally of Canberra, where it all began last year, except that this time an overall podium or win might not be out of the question. Speaking to a busy Bates, it’s clear that performing in his home rally is a major desire.
“(Making my debut) last year opened a lot of doors for me and led to doing more ARC events last year, which I’m grateful of because going into this year, it’s been important to have that experience,” Bates said.
“I’ve got fond memories of the event from last year and it’s a rally that I’ve been to every year since I was born, watching Dad compete. For most drivers, Rally Australia is the biggest event of the year but for me, Rally of Canberra is special because it’s my home event and I can get the hometown support from family and friends.
“I’m looking forward to turning up this year in competitive shape given that we got a good result last year, but struggled in some of the stages because of the car and my lack of experience. This year with the good results I’ve been having, as well as backing from Toyota Genuine Parts and Netier, I’ll be on maximum attack to get as many points as possible.”
You’d be forgiven for assuming that coming from a family with a strong rally background, Harry would’ve had his mind set from a young age that he was destined to rally. However, it wasn’t until the time and resources became available that he realised it might be a shot worth taking.
“I’ve always grown up around rallying so it was only natural that I was going to take some interest in it, but it wasn’t until I finished school that I decided to get involved myself. I’d always watched Dad do it and I’ve always been a rally fan, but I never had aspirations to be a driver until I finished my studies.
“I bought a rally car in my first year out of school and had a bit of success in my first year. That just snowballed so every time I go out, I keep getting better and better than the last time. It’s interesting to look back to when I wasn’t interested and now it’s my whole life.”
Being relatively young and with pace to burn, Bates is not only quick off the road but is now starting to gain more experience on tarmac, recently completing Targa Tasmania in a BMW M2, as well as helping launch the one-make Toyota 86 series, which runs alongside the V8 Championship. Conveniently, the cars are prepared by Neal Bates Motorsport, though the popularity of the series and a tight time schedule may prevent him from taking part this year.
“I’d love to be in a series like the 86s, but so far this year all of my focus and finances have been directed at the ARC. Toyota has been doing a great job in reducing the costs for the competitors and that shows in the number of entrants. The competitor in me would like to have a go and see how I shape up against the guys that have devoted their efforts to it.
“I do really like circuit racing and any chance I get to be behind the wheel is a good thing. If you look at guys like Shane Van Gisbergen in the Supercars series, he’s doing a number of categories internationally and that’s helping him become a better driver.
“A rally driver can learn a lot from tarmac racing and vice versa, though it’s probably easier for us to jump behind the wheel and adapt to their cars. Dad was a great rally driver, but also won his class at Bathurst in 1989 in a Corolla, so it benefitted him to do both disciplines.”
Looking ahead, Harry is pleased that the Bates/Toyota association existed before he came into this world as Toyota’s support has undoubtedly helped him get a good start in his rally career. Obviously focussing on this season, he also doesn’t want to be too cocky about a possible drive in Toyota’s future WRC program.
“I benefit from Dad’s relationship with Toyota this year with their parts division coming along as one of my sponsors, as well as the car being built by them. It was specifically made by Toyota in 2008 to win the ARC and it’s proved to still be a damn good car.
“Without that relationship existing, I wouldn’t have the opportunities that I’ve had this year, so I’ll be hoping to continue that moving forward.
“We have a really amazing championship here in Australia and it has all the ingredients of making a good rally driver. Have a look at what Molly Taylor and Brendan Reeves have been doing in the junior categories overseas.
“It’s great to do the ARC, but our disadvantage is that we are so far from the rest of the world, so if my goal was to be a Toyota WRC driver, I’d need to commit to a program over there (Europe) and have the results to back it up.
“It’s something I’d like to do in the future, but at this point I’ve got great opportunities here.”
- Jordan Mulach
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