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Last weekend’s Rally of Canberra, while not the best-attended event spectator-wise in its history, nevertheless provided a feast of entertainment for rally fans.

With some exciting new cars to brighten up the field, two brand new night spectator stages and some spectacular accidents on the stages, spectators really got their money’s worth of action. Mix the above with perfect (if cold) weather, a compact route that provided some excellent viewing areas, thanks to the de-nuded forests after the 2003 fires, and slick organization, and the 2007 Rally of Canberra was a real success.

* Despite the fact that the event was a round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship (as well as a round of the Australian Rally Championship), just ten crews entered the APRC component, hardly a bumper field in what should be a vibrant contest of Asia-region crews. With Cody Crocker/Ben Atkinson being the crew to beat, it was up to Dean Herridge/Bill Hayes, Katsu Taguchi/Mark Stacey and Finland’s Jussi Valimaki/Jarkko Kalliolepo to set the pace behind the leaders. Another Australian crew was Denis Stevens and Frank Brookhouse, making the remaining seven overseas crew entries look dismal in comparison.

* With Crocker and Atkinson setting the bar, only Taguchi and Herridge were able to stay on the pace and it was all they could do to keep up the relentless pressure over the two days in the forests. The final results show that Crocker is almost unbeatable, and not only on home turf but overseas as well – not bad for an Aussie in any company. He has obviously benefited from being the late Possum Bourne’s protégé, maintaining speed and consistency throughout the event.

* If spectators were a little apathetic towards the lack of star APRC crews, the same could not be said for the ARC component. It had been expected that Simon Evans would be the pacesetter in his Group N (P) Corolla, but many expected that team boss, Neal Bates, would outlast him. This proved not to be the case as the Evans/Evans combo proved that the turbo Corolla, using technology several years old, could still outpace the new-tech S2000 Corolla of Bates. One got the feeling that a much more mature Evans was just playing with Bates, opening out, for instance, a one second per kilometre lead on the first two stages of the second day. It was an exciting fight and a credit to both drivers that there was not a mark on either vehicle at the finish.

* The real highlight of the Rally of Canberra was the appearance of the S2000 TRD Corolla and the high-revving Fiestas of the Pirtek Ford team, and spectators were treated to an aural feast from the screaming non-turbo engines. If the ARC is to attract spectators back into the forests, then there is nothing more certain that the noise from these cars will be the real catalyst. Just whether privateers will be able to afford to buy S2000 cars to challenge the factory teams is another matter entirely.

* For the first time in ten years, the ARC featured a night forest stage on both the Friday and Saturday nights and judging by the crowds who flocked out to watch on two bitterly cold nights, it was another popular decision made by C of C Wayne Kenny. To cement a real future for the ARC, directors are going to need to go out of their way to satisfy paying spectators, and this initial attempt was a step in the right direction.

* The Rally of Canberra was, thankfully, devoid of any serious accidents, although several crews did their best to add some carnage to the event. Atushi Matamura comprehensively destroyed his Evo 9 Lancer, Ray Baker rolled his Daihatsu Charade and young hotshot, Eli Evans, also fell foul of Canberra’s tricky roads, rolling his Impreza on Saturday and temporarily blocking the stage. A pacenote error caused Michael Guest to roll his Fiesta on the opening stage on Friday night, and Frank Barker’s Mitsubishi Evo 7 was inverted as well. Yet all these crashes were usurped by Peter Jerie on Sunday’s Mineshaft stage (see separate story).

* There were some outstanding performances by privateer crews, including Spencer Lowndes and Chris Randell, who came out of retirement to bring their new Evo 9 home in third place after a faultless run. Worthy of a mention for outstanding performances are Eli Evans/Chris Murphy, Will Orders/Toni Feaver, Brendan Reeves/Rhianon Smyth, the Raymond brothers, Kelvin and Eric Croker and others who somehow drove, dragged and carried their cars to the finish in one of Australia’s toughest events.

* Worth a special mention is rising superstar, Molly Taylor, who finished an astounding ninth outright in her front wheel drive Mitsubishi Mirage on Day One, beating home a large armada of 4WD turbo cars and others by consistent and persistent driving. Gearbox troubles on Sunday relegated her to midfield, but it’s obvious that there is plenty of rallying ahead for the 18 year-old Sydneysider.

* Having seen the event from the inside and the outside this year, this writer never ceases to be amazed at the amount of infrastructure that goes into getting an event of this calibre off the ground and then running with barely a hitch. There can be few other branches of motorsport (if, indeed, there are any) that require such a huge volunteer manpower base to run something as demanding as the Rally of Canberra. It was a phenomenal effort well executed.

* For me, the highlights of the event were the speed of the local drivers who are proving better than anything that Asian nations (and Finland too, for that matter) can dish up, and who put on a spectacular display. The other highlight was the noise and speed of the S2000 cars that will stick in my memory for some time.

* For a final, hard luck story, feel a big lump of sympathy for Matt Dyne and Marc Kelly who retired their Subaru SVX before the start. Dyne was driving the Subaru to the start when he stopped to let a pedestrian cross the road. Kelly, driving the service vehicle behind, saw the stopped Subaru too late and rammed into the back of it. The resultant impact caused Dyne to bang his head on the roll cage, the final insult being that a doctor refused to allow him to start due to a bout of suspected concussion. We wonder if that incident was worthy of an entry refund!

* The good news is that the Rally of Canberra will run again next year, but under the direction of Mike Bell, who promises more innovations, more changes and more interest. This year’s event, will take some topping, though.

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