The introduction of the Junior Challenge into this year’s Australian Rally Championship is a great move by the series organisers, and should help to open up the opportunities available to our most talented young rally drivers.

But the advent of a Junior Challenge is nothing new, and back in 1994 it was the platform that launched the career of Cody Crocker – a driver who would go on to win three Australian and four Asia-Pacific Rally Championships.

As publishers of the then-monthly rallying newspaper, Australian Rallysport News (or ARN as it was widely known), we came up with the idea of a competition to showcase rallying’s brightest stars, and not long after the ARN Junior Rally Challenge was born.

The competition involved drivers under the age of 25 competing in four events in their home state, scoring points from their finishing positions in normally aspirated, two-wheel drive cars.

After the four qualifying rounds, the winner in each state was awarded free entry into the ARN Junior Rally Challenge final – held each November at the Rally of Canberra.

It was a big thing. The free entry to the final saved the competitors a couple of thousand dollars, but it was the prize package valued at over $10,000 that was the real carrot for the young guns.

Including free entry to Rally Australia, a complete set of Drummond Suspension, Dunlop rally tyres, motorsport accessories and more, it was something every young rally driver aspired to win.

At the time, it was by far the biggest prize on offer in Australian rallying – far and away more impressive than winning the national championship or our round of the World Rally Championship.

Crocker made the most of his win. He used the prize package to build up a Group N Subaru Legacy RS Turbo, entered several rounds of the ARC, and travelled to Perth to contest his first WRC round, thanks to his free entry.

As his talent continued to shine through, Subaru signed the young Victorian to drive a Group N Impreza WRX alongside the legendary Kiwi, Possum Bourne, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The whole idea of the ARN Junior Rally Challenge was to ensure that young drivers didn’t have to travel from state to state to compete in events that made up the series. This helped them to spend money on their cars, with the only interstate trip required at the end of the year for the winner in each state.

It worked a treat. Entries of up to 50 drivers Australia-wide contested the series on a yearly basis, but as time wore on the biggest factor become where to hold the end of year final.

The Rally of Canberra was moved from November to May, meaning that it was difficult to use the event as the final shoot-out. And, with no other three-day events in the country that could test the young guns over three hard days of rallying, the series eventually ceased.

Thankfully, the series has returned, although in a much more expensive format, with drivers needing to travel the length and breadth of the country to compete in the qualifying rounds.

With any luck, our next Cody Crocker is waiting in the wings and will soon be Australian rallying’s leading light, thanks again to a Junior Rally Challenge.
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