At first glance, you might not put him in the same league as Chris Atkinson or Ross Dunkerton, but Cody Crocker is arguably Australia’s most successful rally driver of all time.
After winning a competition for junior rally drivers in 1994, Crocker was then picked up by Subaru Australia and went on to win an incredible 11 national or international championships in 12 years.
Four Group N (production) titles in the Australian Rally Championship were followed by three outright ARC wins, before an unprecedented four Asia Pacific Rally Championships in succession from 2006 to 2009.
Spending years as the understudy to the legendary Possum Bourne at Subaru helped to shape Crocker’s rally career and his life.
In this enthralling interview with RallySport Magazine, Crocker speaks of his early days in the sport, the thrill of being selected to drive for Subaru, the brutal conditions in the APRC, and his life post Subaru.
This is the first of our exclusive three-part interview.RSM: Firstly, what's Cody Crocker up to these days? We haven't seen you on the rally stages for some time?Cody Crocker: It has been a long time since I've competed on a rally stage. My last drive in a gravel rally was in 2015 with Polaris. Before that my last event in a rally car was in 2011! Wow, now that I think about it, time flies!
I'm keeping very busy in the automotive industry working with Geoff Becker at Motorsport Safety and Rescue, a company he founded with Les Walkden.
I'm staying close to my rally routes. We provide drive programmes for many car manufacturers so I get plenty of seat time in all the new cars, as well as some time at race tracks having fun, err working, with motoring journos all over the country.
Cody Crocker in action for Subaru Australia at Rally New Zealand. Photo: Neil Blackbourn
RSM: Do you still have an affiliation with Subaru in any way?CC: No, my contract with them ended at the start of 2017, quite unceremoniously I'm afraid. It ended the same way it started, with a fairly brief phone call from Nick Senior. It was an amazing 20 years of my life.
RSM: You've had a memorable career with many Australian Rally Championship and Asia Pacific Rally Championship titles. Let's go back to the start though, and the Australian Rallysport News (ARN) Junior Rally Challenge. What do you remember about 1994?CC: Ha, that's about when I met you Pete, and Jeff and the team. 1994 was the first big stepping stone in my career.
These motorsport writers came up with a hare-brained scheme to see if they could launch someone's career in rallying by offering a stupid bounty of prizes for winning the Junior Challenge. What a fortuitous decision that was!
If ever there was an incentive to give rallying a go, that was it. From memory there was over $15K worth of prizes, which back then was even more substantial than it looks: tyres; suspension, seats, harnesses, $1500 cash, some safety gear, the list was long. It's still the biggest winners’ prize I've ever received.
That set us up for the next few years.
It wasn't all smooth sailing though. We had to win our four state rounds and we DNF'd in the very first round, the Begonia Rally, with a broken axle in the Mazda RX5.
It was decision time at that point as to whether we continued. Like most rally competitors there comes a time when you have to decide if they can afford to do the next round. This was our problem after round one.
At the same time, my life-long friend and then co-driver, Mike Dingli, couldn't do the second round and so I put some pressure on him to find a replacement. He said he "knows this bloke at Uni who's a bit crazy and would probably enjoy it. He was dux of his school and has ridden motocross. I'll give you his number."
Cody Crocker and Greg Foletta in the 1994 Alpine Rally in their Mazda RX5, a round of the ARN Junior Rally Challenge.
And that's how I met Greg Foletta. We picked him up on the side of the road on the way to the Alpine Rally and it was full steam ahead from then.
Greg very quickly became a strong part of the team with dedication like no-one else I know. From our first rally together, when he held the roadbook up for me to read the tulips during stages, to an event just this last weekend where he was my spotter on the radio in a Side by Side race, he has been there as a mate/team-mate/co-driver for 24 years now!
Pretty amazing when you think about it. It all started in 1994 because of the ARN Junior Challenge.
On to the final, the Esanda Rally of Canberra, and what an eventful rally. We started well with a solid lead after a good start. Fortunately, the RX-5 was tough, we hit a tree stump after running wide on a corner, it just altered the camber on the front right a bit and that was all. The exhaust almost fell off so we borrowed a welder from Graeme Wise (and half his team) and sorted that.
It all came down to the last day and six stages. We had a very comfortable three-minute lead and as they say, 'All we had to do was finish'.
Sure enough, a flat tyre on the first stage saw us lose almost four minutes - due to many reasons; the RX-5 had different stud patterns front to rear and hence two spares, the rear spare was on the bottom of course. The wheel nuts were hot and bound to the studs, so it was an effort to crank them off with the brace - and there were five of them! Just as I got the second nut on the car fell off the jack.
It was at this point I was fearing the worst. Now we were down almost a minute with only five stages left. I remember Scott and Mark Pedder came up to Canberra to service for me and Scott looked at me and said: 'I have no doubt in my mind that you are going to win this.'
I won't forget it. Jason Buchan (from Western Australia) was fighting closely with us all rally but had suffered from the engine sucking the socks into the carbies (see who knows what I'm talking about there!) and losing power.
We managed to get back into the lead by the last 2km stage. After three and a half days of rallying we won by 13 seconds. We did it and that was the biggest victory of my life till that point.
Crocker and Foletta before the ARN Junior Rally Challenge final in Canberra in November 1994.
RSM: The prize package was significant in rallying terms, but I'm guessing it was still an incredibly tough ask to build a Subaru Legacy for the Victorian Rally Championship, and then to contest Rally Australia in late 1995?CC: I'm so lucky that Dad is a genius mechanic and can make magic happen. He still does, he's now 79 and still going strong, racing and rebuilding everyone else’s engines and gearboxes that they keep breaking trying to beat him!
So with the Junior Challenge victory, Dad 'acquired' and imported a Subaru Legacy from Japan and we began work on it.
It was a damaged automatic Legacy GT with all the luxury bits on it, including push button fold in mirrors - which we used to great aerodynamic effect on stages! It had climate control, electric everything and special coded door handles which you could open without a key - and this was a 1991 model car.
With all the Junior Challenge winnings we had a great start: seats, harnesses, tyres, safety gear, suspension and a few other things. We still had to build a cage. So, to save even more money that we didn't have, we built it ourselves. It took us three weeks full time - Dad spent a week just welding.
I spent another few weeks doing all the mathematical calculations with the aid from my engineer mates (including Greg) in order to get it passed by CAMS. They accepted all the paperwork, but said it will be specially scrutineered at Rally Australia.
I remember the scrutineer holding up the homologation papers in front of the car, with the picture of the side on view of the cage. He then peered at the rear diagonal bar through the side window and said: 'That angle looks okay, all good.'
The robust Mazda RX5 survived the Rally of Canberra to kick-start Crocker's career.
So, after all that work it took about five seconds to check. I was so proud of the cage I wanted them to admire it for longer than that.
Rally Australia was the first rally for the Legacy and after all the prep work it looked perfect as it was loaded on the trailer, and my dad and Greg's dad headed across the Nullabor.
Then, at 2am, about 500km from anywhere, a wheel fell of the trailer and the old Range Rover and trailer ended up sideways in the barrel drain. The trailer rolled on its side and smashed up the left hand side of the rally car. The hitch was still attached to the Rangie and its rear wheels were a few feet off the ground.
So, after driving the Rangie off the hitch and then towing the trailer back onto its wheels, they then drove both cars to the next town to sort things out.
Meanwhile, Greg and I were over in Perth having a ball on recce, watching all the WRC guys doing their 'recce' at full pace in Group N rally cars, which is when we got a call with the news. Mum had to fly over with two new side windows because we couldn't get any in Perth.
After that ordeal, we started the rally and then I tipped the car upside down on the first stage on day three. The roll was so slow I remember watching the crack walk across the windscreen as we rolled over. That was the end of that. After all the highs of '94, we were in a serious low.
A freshly-built Subaru Legacy RS Turbo in Crocker's hands at Rally Australia in 1995.
RSM: It wasn't long before you were on Subaru's radar though. What do you remember about the initial contact from Nick Senior, and how did it all come about?CC: That Legacy served us well over the next few years and I think was a bit of a positive asset when it came to the Subaru thing. When people ask me about how the Subaru drive came about, my usual reply is “a bit of good luck and a bit of good management”.
The 1997 Rally of Melbourne was a pivotal event where we made ourselves known to Subaru. Greg Graham (from NZ) and Michael Guest were fighting it out for the Group N championship and we were swapping times with them. I remember hearing people questioning how some young kid in a six-year old pretty standard car on Silverstone tyres could be beating the factory cars.
We actually bought some of Subaru's tyres at the Saturday night service - the used ones of course, we couldn't afford new. I'm not sure they were keen to sell us the used ones, let alone new.
In 1998 we were at a crossroads. We were trying to spend our time and little money on doing the ARC rather than lots of smaller events. During a day of training with Ed Ordynski, he sat me down and asked me what I wanted to achieve in rallying.
Cody Crocker also used his Subaru in rounds of the Victorian Rally Championship.
Greg and I were both absolutely determined to make it as far as we possibly could, and we were prepared to do whatever it took. His advice was to gamble on the bigger events and try to get results there in the slim chance that someone is looking for a driver.
So, we went to Coffs Harbour, the first round of the 1998 ARC. The gearbox in our service truck broke on the way and we had to hire another one. We finished reasonably well, but I wasn't really happy with how we went.
The next round was in WA and we'd pretty much spent everything on Coffs, so unless something pretty huge happened, we weren't going. Very unexpectedly, something huge did happen and I got a call from Nick Senior, who was Subaru's Marketing Manager at the time.
I had to ask him his name twice, because I couldn't believe someone from Subaru was ringing me, much less telling me I'd been chosen to drive their car in Perth.
It was a five-minute chat that changed my life. I'd just been given the 'golden nugget' as Australian Rallysport News put it.
I will never forget hanging up and thinking “holy $#!^, this is the ultimate answer to everything we've been working towards”.
It was an amazing feeling which was to last for nearly 20 years.
Part 2 of our Cody Crocker interview coming soon, including joining Subaru Rally Team Australia, and working with the great Possum Bourne.
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