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Matt Lee and Annie Dougherty kicked off the 2017 Victorian Club Rally Series with a measured drive in a Subaru Impreza WRX, winning the Cooper Memorial Rally on April 29.

Matt Lee won the Cooper Memorial Trial. (Marco Antonello Photography)Heavy rains in the lead up to the event didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the 29 competitors who set off from Noojee to tame the popular flowing roads in the forests surrounding the township, and nearby Powelltown.

Unlike the all night format of past Cooper’s, the 2017 running of the event, run under the guidance of the Western District Car Club, would see four stage contested in daylight, before repeating the same in darkness.

Justin Walker and Steph Richards (Ford Escort) set the pace on the opening two stages, with the similar Escort of Luke Sytema/Rowan Woollard nipping at their heels.

However both crews would hit trouble, dropping down the order and elevating Lee/Dougherty into the rally lead. From there the pair never looked back.

Consistency rewarded 2015 series champions, Cary Seabrook and Rhiannon Philpot-Hale, with second in their trusty Datsun Stanza. Meanwhile Gippsland pair Luke Simpson and Ryan Humphrey’s made a welcome return in the Hyundai FX Coupe, entertaining spectators with some impressive car control on their way to third.

The opening round proved to be a real test with seven crews failing to see the finish. The next round of the VCRS is the Daryl Tunbridge Trial on the evening of May 20 in Talbot, near Ballarat.

- Craig O’Brien

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