Preview: Four-way fight for National Capital Rally
- 28th February 2013, 10:49am
With much anticipation, the 2013 East Coast Bullbars Australian Rally Championship roars into action with the National Capital Rally in Canberra this weekend.
The most notable change in this year’s championship is the introduction of the 2WD-only component. While drivers in 4WD cars can compete, they will run in a separate ‘National Rally Series’.
RallySport Magazine's Peter Whitten looks at the contenders.
Reigning Australian Champions, Eli Evans (2WD) and Michael Boaden (4WD) both return to defend their titles, with Evans certainly starting as the pre-championship favourite.
The Victorian will again drive a Honda Jazz with Glen Weston calling the pacenotes, while Boaden and his co-driving sister, Helen Cheers, have had to make the move to a front-wheel drive car for the first time. They’ll pilot a Volkswagen Polo Vivio that was imported from South Africa by the 2011 ARC winner, Justin Dowel.
In his first drive in the car, Boaden shouldn’t be expected to challenge for victory. Even before a wheel is turned in anger the battle for the top step on the podium looks likely to be a race of four, between Eli Evans, Brendan Reeves, Jack Monkhouse and the Welshman, Elfyn Evans.
On outright speed, Elfyn Evans should be the man to catch. He convincingly won last year’s FIA World Junior Rally Championship in a Ford Fiesta, and will drive a similar car this weekend, run by the Innate Motorsport team.
However, this is the Welshman’s first visit to Australia, and his unfamiliarity with the Canberra stages could prove to be a significant disadvantage. But having said that, you don’t win a world title without being an incredibly fast driver, so he could well be in a class of his own.
Eli Evans’ pedigree is now well known, while Brendan Reeves will drive the Mazda2 that Simon Evans drove in 2012. Reeves, himself, has also spent the past two years in the WRC, and the experience that he and Rhianon Smyth have learnt in that time will be invaluable.
Whether he has the pace to match it with the Evans’ remains to be seen, but most will be surprised if he doesn’t.
Monkhouse is the real joker in the pack. Now vastly experienced, yet without the results to match, the South Australian has shown time and again that he has the speed to win, but mechanical breakdowns and crashes have regularly cut his rallies short.
His Nissan Silvia S15 is the oldest car in the leading pack, but don’t expect it to be the slowest. Whether Monkhouse, together with co-driver John Allen, can keep it mobile for the full length of the event will be the determining factor.
Scott Pedder, the ARC’s CEO, will lead the new two-car Renault team, with he and WA’s Tom Wilde driving Renault Clios, but like Boaden, it’s unclear as to how quick the pair will be in unproven cars (at least in Australian conditions).
After some success in the USA last year, Will Orders returns to the ARC in his Nissan Silvia S13, while Mark Pedder will drive the second factory-backed Honda Jazz.
With plenty of rain falling in the lead up to the rally, road conditions will play a real role in who takes the spoils. If that’s the case, Elfyn Evans and Brendan Reeves, with their extensive WRC experience, could be the two most likely to fight it out.
The increasingly popular Classic Rally Challenge will feature 15 cars, headed by four-time Australian Rally Champions, Neal Bates and Coral Taylor, in their Toyota Celica RA40.
On home ground, Bates should be uncatchable if the Celica is reliable, with his biggest challenge to come from NSW driver Jeff David, driving a new Porsche 911.
David will have the experienced Glenn Macneall (Chris Atkinson’s former co-driver) calling the notes, and aside from Bates, should prove to be a cut above the rest of the field.
Regular international competitors, Keith and Mary Anne Callinan, will start third in their Ford Escort RS1800, and along with Bates and David, they’ll head from Canberra to New Zealand for the Otago Classic Rally at the start of April.
Hayden Taylor will be fast in his rear-wheel drive Nissan Bluebird, while the two-time national champion, Barry Lowe, can never be discounted in his Holden Commodore V8.
2011 ARC winner, Justin Dowel, will drive a recently-purchased Nissan 240RS in the classic component, but a broken collarbone is likely to curtail his push for a top three placing.
Dowel had been scheduled to drive a VW Polo in the main title race, but a training accident put him out of action, and means he’ll compete in the classic component for “a bit of fun”.
The event will also include a 4WD component, with John Mitchell, Adam Casmiri and Derek Reynolds – all in Mitsubishi Lancers – clearly the front-runners in the 10-car field.
Cody Crocker (Polaris) and Michael Guest (CanAm) are the only two competitors in the SxS Rally Challenge, now in its second year in the ARC.
The National Capital Rally will run on Saturday and Sunday, with Heat 1 comprising six stages and 96.06 kilometres on the first day.
Sunday will see competitors tackling a further seven stages over 95.34 kilometres.
Follow the weekend’s results at: http://rallylive.com.au/dev/
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