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After a six year hiatus from rallying, Andrew Pannam returned to Victorian rallying in 2013 with the intention of achieving several goals.  He aimed to be competitive in the Victorian Rally Championship (VRC) and the Victorian Club Rally Series (VCRS), and fulfill the dream of competing at Rally Australia.

Pannam has high ambitions for someone who stepped back from the sport to concentrate on business interests.  Upon his return he has stunned his critics by a turn of speed and consistency that has impressed many competitors.  Teaming up with old friend Tracey Dewhurst, in both the VRC and the VCRS, will enable Pannam to gain as much seat time and miles back behind the wheel as possible, to allow him to get back on the pace in Victorian rallying.

“VRCs are the ultimate challenge in the state as they push you up against the very best cars and teams at the top of their game. On the other hand the VCRS challenges you with night driving and the art of map reading for the co-driver, and not just outright speed.  We are under no illusion that the return to rallying will be easy,” Pannam admitted.

Pannam planned to build a separate car for each championship but that has taken longer and more expense than he anticipated.  Instead, Pannam and Dewhurst have been using their 1997 Subaru GC8 WRX built by PRT Motorsport for all their rallying so far.  

Pannam returned with Doug Fernie in the left hand seat at the first VCRS round, the Marysville Stages. He lead the rally from the first stage until a niggling turbo problem caused them to lose several minutes, leaving them in second outright.  This was a great result for the first rally back.  Going into the second round, the Blue Rock Stages, this time with Tracey Dewhurst in the car, Pannam drove consistently and in control.  The team were on the pace from the outset in a tough event and finished topping the leader board with a very satisfying win.

Despite their success in the VCRS, the VRC would always be Pannam and Dewhurst’s main focus this year.  After the first two rounds of the championship were cancelled due to fire issues, the team was excited to finally get underway. They once again took the GC8 out to tackle the state’s best teams including past champions, Stephen Raymond, Warren Lee and Craig Morris and current frontrunners Tristan Penhall, Steve Kenway and David Nutter.

The roads around Bairnsdale in the East Gippslands stages, were a combination of rough and slippery roads that would challenge all crews.  Pannam started out with a good fast pace but at the end of stage two had a badly deflated tyre.  He changed the tyre before the start of the long stage three and this time arrived at the end of the stage with a fully deflated tyre.  

With two more stages consisting of approximately 27km still to go, Pannam was forced to put the near deflated tyre in the boot back on the car to make it through the last two stages to the end of heat one.  Unfortunately along the way, Lee/Lethlean and Penhall/Middleton would both suffer damage from rocks while Morris/Cole would be waylaid after an excursion saw them break a driveshaft.  Until Raymond/Ellis retired with mechanicals, they were the only crew quicker than Pannam/Dewhurst.

For heat two in the night stages, Pannam decided on a smooth and consistent approach to maintain his time gap over the other crews.  This approach paid off with a second in heat two behind the Subaru team of Steve Kenway and Lauren Palmer who drove very well to win heat two.  The overall round win went to Pannam and Dewhurst, their first ever VRC round win.  

Pannam acknowledges the help of their service crew, “We couldn’t have achieved these great results without the support of Matt Dick, Joel Wald and Tim Batten.”

Next on the agenda is the third round of the VCRS, the Cooper Memorial in the Wombat State Forest on the evening of May 25.  This is followed by the second round of the VRC on the fast and challenging roads of the Bega Valley Rally, based in Eden, on June 9.

Photo by Golly

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