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RallySport Magazine’s Karl Drummond takes a close look at the West Australian Rally Championship component of the recent Quit Forest Rally.

Heat 1

In 2006 the lightening fast driving of Alex Stone and Dianna Madlener in their Impreza WRX, led them to a convincing win on the Forest Rally in the state championship section. The pair had driven so quickly that if they had of been registered for the ARC, they would have finished fifth outright - a tremendous result against the might of factory-backed teams and much newer machinery.

Would fate allow a repeat performance in 2007? Only time would tell.

With Rally Australia now gone from Western Australian shores, the Quit Forest Rally is the most prestigious gravel rally in the state. With the event also being part of the Australian Rally Championship, yet more weight is given to the attraction of the rally. For some of the national media, it seemed like there were only two competitors in the event and the media coverage reflected that.
Whilst the new Ford Fiesta Super 2000’s  may have looked and sounded the part, the WA competitors made up the bulk of the field and performed arguably more spectacularly.

Thirty one state teams made the trip down to Busselton & Nannup for the two-day battle royal that counted toward state championship points.
Bringing rallying to the masses, the first two stages on Friday night were set on the Busselton foreshore with an all-tarmac Super Special Stage.
Some shakedown runs earlier in the day had possibly increased confidence a little too much for some competitors. Stone/Madlener set the fastest time around SS1 with Rob Herridge/Elio Della Maddalena (WRX) second and Doug Tostevin/Alan Cook third in their Legacy RS. After a short break, SS2 was run in the reverse direction around the same tarmac circuit. This time Stone/Madlener ripped around the tarmac and opened a few seconds buffer on the field. The results for other places on SS2 were tight. No less than five other teams finished the stage on the same second behind the leading pair.

Teams then travelled to Nannup some 50km south of Busselton on Saturday morning, to tackle Heat One’s seven forest stages. Even before one team could make the transport, they were having problems. Tom, and sister Nerralee, Wilde, had battery problems with their Mazda 323 GTX. The car refused to start after the overnight halt and repairing the problem cost a hefty time penalty. Stone/Madlener continued to stamp their dominance on the event, setting another fastest stage time on SS3. It was a theme set to continue until SS6.
Leigh Hynes/Stuart Percival in their left hand drive WRX were pushing hard and set the second fastest time through the stage ahead of Chris Anderson/Joel Lithgo in their Spec C WRX.

In SS4 a younger pair of competitors made their presence felt. Just behind the stage winners, James Anderson and Ben Searcy took their Spec C WRX to second place. Another hard charging pair, Toby Heyring and Peter Turner got their Spec C through the stage in third place, just six seconds behind Anderson/Searcy. Looking through the times, it was clear to see the battles from 2006 were well and truly on again.

SS5 was cancelled due to one of the ARC cars crashing and blocking the stage, so teams were sent into a hasty regroup and then out to tackle the following stage.
SS6 was relatively short and saw a changing of the results of the heat. A broken gear lever assembly lost Stone/Madlener about a minute and a half  through the stage. It was a lot of time, despite their lead. A dejected Stone did not look hopeful at the mid point service. Rob Herridge/Della Maddalena took their first stage win with Anderson/Lithgo and Anderson/Searcy in second and third respectively.

It was SS7 that saw some team’s campaigns fall apart. Whilst Stone/Madlener were back to full tilt, the Andersons and Herridge were too close behind to make up enough time. John “Chucky” Macara/Trent McCullough’s WRX developed an electrical fault, which retired them from the event. Hynes/Percival retired with a failed gearbox and the rapid Ford Escort of Blair Pugh/Anthony Chudleigh ended the day stuck in the bush after an excursion off the road.

With the usual suspects filling the top three places of SS8, it was left to the last two stages of the day to entertain the spectators.
The short Nannup oval stage set the backdrop for SS9 & 10, and drama seemed to be the name of the game. First to come to grief among the WA teams were Tolley Challis and Greg Flood. The pair made a slight mistake on the first corner of the stage and overshot. The nose of their Lancer Evo 7 went down the bank and the car was stuck. The duo had already lost a lot of time in SS8 with problems. Geoff Leatt-Hayter/John White were also having problems.

Earlier in the day their Ford Escort had lost part of its exhaust. After repairing that came a split rear brake line, giving the car minimal front brakes for the last two stages. Graeme Furness and Peter Lyndsay also had an unlucky moment around the Nannup Oval. The team’s WRX rolled on the very last stage and ended the weekend prematurely. Rounding out the day’s retirements were Nigel Anderson and Richard Harris. In SS8 the pair’s Nissan Sunny GTI started to lose power and a glance in the mirror revealed a trail of smoke from the exhaust, later traced to a conrod poking out of the engine block, which spelt retirement for the weekend. After the last two short stages the teams headed in for a major service.

Despite their roll, Furness/Lyndsay finished tenth. The pair would not however, be able to start Heat 2. Tostevin/Cook brought their Legacy RS home to a tidy ninth, just behind Shane and brother Trent Eather who were on their first pacenoted event together. The duo had some early problems, however managed a credible eighth place for Heat 1. Justin Kinnear/Adam Pearson also had some troubles and a bent rear suspension from an earlier altercation with a drain made the going tough. The pair finished the heat in seventh place in their Lancer Evo 7.

Mike Anderson, co-driven by Emma Plane, had a trouble free day – they brought their Impreza Spec C home in sixth place. Stone/Madlener held onto a top five finish in fifth place behind Heyring/Turner in fourth. Herridge/Della Maddalena took third outright and Anderson/Lithgo were second. Finishing the day 13 seconds ahead of his brother, James Anderson (and Ben Searcy) took out the top honors for Heat 1.

In the two wheel drive battle, Pugh/Chudleigh had been leading early but with their exit in SS7, the Heat 1 win went to Kevin Sleep and Alex Kirkhouse (Honda Civic). Second place in the two wheel drive class went to Mark Cameron/Ian DeBoer (Suzuki Swift GTi). It had not all been plain sailing for the crew at the start of the weekend though. During shakedown early on Friday, the GTI had suffered some damage after trying to bulldoze a hay bale on the super special stage.

Heat 2

After the last service for Saturday signalled the end of Heat 1, competitors headed back to Busselton for the start of Heat 2.
Two more passes around the Tarmac Super Special Stage on Saturday evening ended the day and gave teams the chance to have a good meal and a warm bed for the night.

With some experience of the tarmac from the previous night, the lines were cleaner the next day and the times quicker. Stone/Madlener won SS11 with equal second awarded to Eather/Eather and Herridge/Della Maddalena. The final pass on the tarmac for the weekend yielded similar results. This time Eather/Eather shared the second fastest time with Heyring/Turner. Stone/Madlener again set the pace, taking an early Heat 2 lead.

For a change, the forecast, rain for Sunday, was correct.  
Heavy rai ns overnight and continuing rain during the day meant mud and more mud for Sunday in and around Nannup. The clay based roads, now swept of gravel from the previous day’s competition, were to be a big challenge to competitors and officials.

Adding to the difficult conditions, the start to SS13 had to be hastily changed due to access problems caused by the weather. Revised transport details were issued to competitors, however some had trouble finding their way into the stage. The husband and wife team of Doug and Gillian Smith got lost on the transport and decided to withdraw from Heat 2.
Braving the conditions Anderson/Searcy set the quickest time through the stage, followed by Herridge/Della Maddalena and Anderson/Lithgo.

The results for the next few stages had similar names in different orders, but it was a case of luck in some instances. The rains were falling heavily on and off, and if a car was at the end of the stage when the rain fell, it would do little to affect the time. If the rain fell when a car was on the start line or mid stage, the results were very different.
As the day progressed, the conditions if anything, got worse. The mud was becoming deeper, corners more slippery and traction a problem.
If the four wheel drives were struggling, it was even more difficult for the two wheel drive cars.
Keeping any of the cars in a straight line was no mean feat for the drivers.

As the tales of dramas started to filter through, the end of SS16 was a far as Macara/McCullough got. Their WRX had run out of brakes and ended in retirement while Ray Robertsen/Richard Reeves retired in SS17 with a tree wedged in the bonnet of their Suzuki Swift and Heyring/Turner rolled their Spec C in SS18 on a treacherous corner. SS19 saw the retirement of another front running pair, Stone/Madlener. After having gear shifter problems the Saturday, the gearbox expired altogether on Sunday with terminal results. Others that did manage to continue to the finish were also suffering. Kinnear/Pearson damaged an oil cooler and were lucky to make service and continue the rally.

Graeme and Greg Miles had lost third gear (and a lot of time)in their WRX and Sleep/Kirkhouse got themselves bogged for a while.
The excitement for the weekend had not ended on Saturday for Leatt-Hayter/White either. The Escort’s extractors and exhaust broke, resulting in a noisy day in the car. All the service crew could do was cut the mangled exhaust off to allow the car to finish the event. Son and father, David and Stan Pisulak (Mazda Astina) had a moment on a stage too. The car sideswiped a stump, damaging the left door and sill panel. From that point on, father Stan had to stay put in the navigator’s seat until virtually the end of the rally. Joanne McIlroy and Chris Parish also had some last minute excitement when they gently rolled their WRX after they ran up a bank in the slippery conditions.

After a trying day, the remaining competitors were happy to see the finish ramp of this year’s Forest Rally.

Having a slightly better day on Sunday, Wilde/Wilde made tenth place although not without penalties. Pugh/Chudleigh managed to recover their Escort after Heat 1 and drove superbly to ninth in Heat 2. Tostevin/Cook made eighth place and Anderson/Plane were seventh. Sixth went to Eather/Eather although they too had their share of problems. A hasty brake pad change, followed by bent front suspension arms and collapsed strut on the last stage meant the team couldn’t have gone any further.

A better day in Heat 2 rewarded Challis/Flood with fifth place, Anderson/Searcy made fourth and Hines/Percival drove well to third with a replacement gearbox installed. Anderson/Lithgo finished in a well-deserved second place for the heat behind Herridge/Della Maddalena.
No doubt years of experience assisted Herridge to the heat win in the conditions - it had been a long time between drinks for the former ARC and WARC champion.
In the two wheel drive standings, Pugh/Chudleigh won the heat and Sleep/Kirkhouse’s off-stage excursion in SS20 had passed second place onto Cameron/DeBoer.

Thanks to the organisers and especially all of the volunteer officials who braved the conditions to run the event. Without the dedication of a lot of people, rallies simply would not run in WA.

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