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The fifth round of the 2009 Victorian Rally Championship, the Kings Cars Begonia Rally, was run and won last weekend in and around the Wombat State Forest. 

The PowerPlay Mk2 Escort running in the History Rally category, started the event as car 15, with driver Michael Conway and navigator Jenny Cole anticipating a good run. The team had performed well in round 3 at the Bega Valley Rally finishing 11th outright despite losing more than five minutes on stage one with a fuel blockage.

The team had dropped to fourth outright 2WD after an intermittent engine 'miss' led to the car being withdrawn after the first stage in the previous round, the George Derrick Memorial Trial, so the car and team needed to perform well at the Begonia to ensure a reasonable finish in overall place in the 2WD VRC category.

The weather conditions were perfect with a sunny, windy day greeting the field. Overnight rain ensured almost perfect road conditions aside from the odd slippery shaded corner early on.

Stage one was a good mixture of tight, twisty, slippery corners right through to a 2.5 km long straight with plenty of crests. The front running 4WDs had already started  to dig some reasonable ruts in the corners which made it a little difficult to drive the rear wheel drive Escort in the traditional manner. The safe option of tram-lining it around the corners proved a little frustrating, however the PowerPlay Escort was the fastest 2WD car - a great start to the event.

Stage 2 was a very fast stage - a long uphill run from the start followed by lots of very fast third and fourth gear corners. With the Escort running  a 5.1:1  diff ratio, the car was on the rev limiter at 8000rpm plenty of times, a finished a safe run through as third 2WD behind Geoff Portman (Commodore) and Brian Semmens (200SX).

With a  consistent run through the next five daylight stages and no major work required at the service breaks, the PowerPlay Escort sat in third 2WD. The lights were fitted for the following two night stages and the team headed out into the forest unsure if they could keep up the pace at night. Mike had only driven the car in four night stages in this, his first year of gravel rallying.

Stage 8 was a short blast with a great mixture of fast and slow, up and down roads. A very well lit spectator point on a tight left hand corner proved irresistible to some crews and plenty put on a show for the large gathering in the cold Victorian night air.

A quick check of the cars in front at the end of the stage revealed that Mike and Jenny had equalled Brian Semmens'time and dropped only two seconds to Portman in the 2WD category.

Onto the last stage of the event and a good finish was ensured if the team could negotiate the last 20 kms with no problems. Mike and Jenny had a great run for the first 15 kms but a minor mistake at this point meant the crew decided to drop the pace a little to guarantee a finish. The pair finished the stage with no problems and headed back to Kowingueboora on the final transport eager to see the final results.

With the car safely back in Parce Ferme, Mike and Jenny and the crew headed into check the final results. Third 2WD and fifth outright was a fantastic result for the HRC spec MK2 Escort and the team in its first year of gravel rallying.

Mike and Jenny and the team would like to thank Kings Cars and all the organizers and volunteers for putting on a fantastic well run event. The roads were fantastic and the conditions throughout the day and night stages were almost perfect for this time of the year. It is certainly an event that will stay on the VRC calender for many years to come.

The next and last round of the VRC is the Akademos rally on October 18. The team can’t wait for this event to come around as pace notes are allowed. Mike's previous rallying experience prior to this year's VRC has only ever been rallying on pace notes and with navigator Jenny Cole also very experienced with pace notes, the team are hoping to finish the season on a high.

Mike and Jenny would like to thank team members Brad Turner and Paul Jones for their assistance during the Begonia Rally and Simon Gardiner and PowerPlay Automotive for the continued support of the car – roll on the Akademos!

For any further info on the car or team please contact Mike at PowerPlay Automoitive – www.powerplay.net.au

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