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Classic stages like Pipeline, Mineshaft, Lee's Creek and Molonglo Ridge greeted the record 65 entries at the Rally of Canberra in 2000, making for an event with stories galore! There was even $50,000 up for grabs... We step back 20 years to May 7, 2000. ===== The Australian round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship continued its steady growth on the first weekend in May when 64 entrants from around the world made their way to Canberra to do battle on the smooth, sometimes rocky, twisting roads around the nation's capital. The field included internationals from Japan, New Zealand, Malaysia, Indonesia and New Caledonia. With the success of the first Asia Pacific- graded round in 1999, the 2000 version was expected to provide similar action.

ENTRY

The field included a couple of top flight Aussie crews in Possum Bourne/Mark Stacey and Neal Bates/Coral Taylor. The TTA team was hoping to make amends for being beaten in Perth, especially on the team's home turf. Neither of them however, was seeded car 1. That honour went to last year's Asia Pacific Champion, Japan's Katsu Taguchi, and new co-driver Derek Ringer. The reigning champion had a new car - a Japanese Ralliart built Lancer Evolution 6. "It is the real thing," explained co-driver, ex-WRC champion (with Colin McRae) Ringer. "It's running with a few differences from the Ralliart Europe cars, as it runs Yokohama tyres instead of Michelins, and the driver has little experience of Group A and we have little knowledge of each other. And we had two days testing for the event."

The top seeded crews, Taguchi, Bourne and Bates, at the Parliament House start. Photo: Holmes

The deal had been done for Derek to join the team only six weeks before, and is for the rest of the season. Possum Bourne had announced during the weekend before in NZ that he and 'Stace' would be running each round of the APAC series, which now means that the Kiwi will be seen on each remaining round - the Aussie and NZ rounds in the Impreza WRC98, and the others in his 'old' Group A four-door Impreza. Current New Zealand champion, Geof Argyle, brought his Lancer across for the rally, with co-driver Stephen Smith. Seeded below them came the regular Aussie competitors, Cody Crocker/Greg Foletta and Ed Ordynski/Iain Stewart who were expecting to fight with the likes of Kiwis Reece Jones/Leo Bult, Stumpy Holmes/Darryl Judd, while another Ralliart Japan-prepared car came for Japanese champion Fumio Nutahara, who was attempting the event for the second time. He ran here in 1999, and had the winning co-driver from 1999 also, Satoshi Hayashi as Yoshihiro Kataoka has retired. Another top runner in Group N, despite his machinery, was multiple Indian and Malaysian champion and a vastly experienced driver, Karamjit Singh, with Allen Oh beside him in a Proton Wira. The car is effectively a Group N Lancer Evo 3, so it is by no means a modern car.

Fumio Nutahara was a leading international driver. Photo: Holmes

A host of local drivers were determined to put in good performances. Dean Herridge had Chris Randell with him for this event, and they were determined to take up where they had left off in Perth. F2 runners included Melbourne's own Simon and Sue Evans in their new VW Golf Mk 4, and the 'old' car, the Mark 3, was leased for the event by Marty Beckton. The UK resident had the Union Jack on the car, as his competition licence is a British one, while regular co-driver, Japan's Eido Osawa had the Aussie flag on his side of the car, as his licence is an Australian one! A brace of Toyota Corolla Levins, two-door sports coupe-type Corollas were brought to the rally from Japan, but could not compete on outright speed with the Golfs. The Proton Trophy cars were eligible to run at the last minute, and two did - Ashlea James with WA's Toni Feaver on the notes, and Joseph Lombardo and co-driver Michael Ryan were attempting their first international event. Another battle to look at was the FAI State Champion's Challenge. It was to be fought out between George Shepheard/Del Garbutt (Queensland), John Mitchell/Colin Trinder (NSW), Scott Pedder/Paul Humm (Victoria) and John Farrell/Jim Carlton (Western Australia). Farrell did not end up starting, but the battle was on for the top honours for state pride amongst the others. The weather conditions would play more than a starring role in the event however, as it has on so many events in Canberra in the past. Rain began falling half way through recce on the Wednesday and did not stop until Friday morning. This changed the road conditions quite a lot, and gave more than a few headaches to the organisers and crews from the start.

LEG ONE

The FAI Rally of Canberra started outside the main entrance to Parliament House on Friday morning, and unfortunately for the organisers, the weather really did conspire against them. Rain fell steadily all through the ceremony, but the dry wit of Ross Dunkerton helped brighten up an otherwise dull day. Cars headed out to the first stage with some trepidation, and the 26.42km opening stage was not easy on the competitors. The first stage was the tricky, long, and now very slippery Mineshaft, including the famous Shaft itself, one of the hardest pieces of road to walk up and down, let alone drive a rally car down! Most of the action however, centred on the first few kilometres of the stage, when the favourites for the rally, Possum Bourne and Mark Stacey, copped a puncture within two kilometres of the start. They were forced to stop and change the tyre, losing a couple of minutes as a result. The first car on the road, Taguchi and Ringer, made slow progress through the stage, but made it through to head the event. The same could not be said for Neal Bates and Coral Taylor. Their Toyota Corolla WRC slid off the road into a ditch losing lots of time. Then they had to attend to a small fire at the rear of the car, when the exhaust, which had been bent upward in the earlier incident, set some electrical parts on fire. Group N should have been the property of someone else when Cody Crocker and Greg Foletta also punctured a Pirelli, however, the stage was hard work for Ed Ordynski, and he and Iain Stewart could not beat Crocker's time.

Subaru's Cody Crocker suffered a puncture on leg one of the event. Photo: Holmes

There were others who came to grief on the stage, including some who had come a long way for the event. Brad Markovic and Jon Mortimer from Perth broke a driveshaft in their ex-Dean Herridge Hyundai Coupe off the startline of the stage and that was that, while Marty Beckton and Eido Osawa spun and got bogged. "It was a fourth gear spin, and we ended up against a bank, so I hit reverse, and the car just sunk into the road. We were out, with the stage barely started," Beckton commented later. They were joined shortly after by dual WA Clubman Cup champions Alex Stone and Dianna Madlener in their Impreza. "It was a bit of brain fade really," said Alex. "We just slid off and that was us out of the rally. But we will keep going tomorrow." The rules for the rally allowed for crews to restart the following day, but not to be classified in the final results. Less lucky was young Sydney driver Mark Thompson who had clutch problems on the transport stage to the start and was instantly out for the day. Kiwi Stumpy Holmes had his former co-driver back again, Sydney-based New Zealander Darryl Judd. They made it to within 8 kilometres of the finish before their dramas started. "We just clipped a bank on the inside of a corner, and the car tripped and went over. It was a light roll really, but our biggest problem was seeing through the shattered windscreen!" They came to rest back on their wheels, selected first and away they went! Andrea Maselli and Nicola Arena from Italy were having different dramas. 'This is the first rally for me in a right hand drive car, and one of the first on an all gravel event," Maselli said. The pair had no wet weather tyres, but fortunately were not alone, but they were learning in the Ralliart-prepared Lancer Evo 4. Then they encountered a group of locals on the road - kangaroos! "We have one in front of the car as we locked up, and one ran into the side of the car also," said Andrea. The opening stage gave Taguchi quite a lead over the rest of the field, especially his biggest threat, Bourne and Stacey. This sent the Impreza WRC driver into overdrive, and the stage times reflected the charge that nobody doubted would come. Bourne, Bates and Taguchi were in a class of their own as they streaked away from the Group N cars behind them. Bourne and Stacey took the next stage, the 9.11km 'Pierces East' test by just over nine seconds from Taguchi, while Neal Bates was a further seven seconds back.

Possum Bourne in action in his Subaru World Rally Car.

Karamjit Singh and Allen Oh had made their experience of the slippery Malaysian stages really count, with a stunning time to have the Proton Wira right behind the Crocker Impreza on the stage. Jean-Louis Leyraud, from New Caledonia, took another top ten time and the other Taguchi in the rally, Katsu's father Seiichiro, set seventh fastest time in his Lancer Evo 5 and was fourth outright in the event, after being seeded car 34. The first Uriarra service saw all the crews scrambling for wet weather tyres, if they had them, and the softest compounds as well. Some very aggressive tread patterns were seen on the leading cars as they headed up the hill to tackle some of the clay based stages around the Uriarra settlement, where all the services would be held out in the field. The lead in Group N was held by Crocker to the end of the day, but Nutahara and Hayashi took 45 seconds off them on Lee's Creek. However, Cody and Greg would take a lead of almost two minute into day 2. Singh and Oh had the Proton into fifth, behind Katsu. The Lee's Creek stage has some spectacular views, and unfortunately one of the top crews had far too much time to take it in. The Evo 6 of Ordynski and Stewart had a few moments along, with everybody else on the event, and one of these may have been responsible for the damaged radiator. A stick went through the radiator which then proceeded to dump all its fluids on the road, to leave Ed watching the temperature gague climb, until the motor seized on a tight left hand corner, refusing to start again. Ordynski's run was over, for the day at least, but he was hopeful of having the engine repaired in time for a re-start the following day. Sadly, this was not to be the case. The Lancer driver had gone back to the 1999 spec Yokohama tyres, as he still preferred them despite further testing of the tyres in the lead-up to the rally. Bates and Taylor ripped their way through the stage, Neal hurling the Corolla up the hill, and into a bank on the exit of a left hander, breaking a wheel and causing a flat tyre, which saw them attack the next 14km stage on three tyres and a rim. The Corolla was unfortunately out for good on the next stage, East West, when Neal spun the car off the road and became bogged, this time for good.

Neal Bates had a troublesome first leg. Photo: Holmes

The car was dug out that night, and the Canberra favourite would be back in the morning, but unfortunately out of contention for outright honours. The F2 lead was in the hands of the Evans family and the new Mark 4 Golf. "We are just going at about 80% today," said Evans. The Victorian couple had their only real incident on the East West stage when they hit a rock and bent the steering. However, there turned out to be more damage than they imagined. They had broken a strut top, but this was not found until later in the event. As proof that the roads in Canberra are not the most forgiving, John Holster and co-driver Mark Tolhurst suffered a major accident in their Evo 4 Lancer. After landing badly over a jump and hitting the upward side of the next crest, the resulting landing hurt their backs. They decided they would pull over and withdraw from the rally, but the landing had actually cut their rear brake lines and the pedal went straight to the floor when Holster tried to turn off at the upcoming T-junction. The barrel rolling accident which followed saw the pair taken to hospital that afternoon after it had taken rescue crews two hours to remove them safely from the car. At the end of the leg the rally was lead by Bourne and Stacey, however they had had to work for it. After being over two minutes behind Taguchi, a solid fightback from the four time Aussie champ had them back in front by 1m15 seconds by the end of the leg. Taguchi and Ringer had had a couple of spins, and were now in the business of consolidating second position. John Mitchell and Colin Trinder were leading the FAI State Champions Cup, and despite them having the oldest car of the various State Champions, they held ninth outright. The Pedder Lancer Evo 3 was next, up in 24th place, the Victorian Champion taking some bodywork off the Group A car and setting himself the task of catching the Group N car in front. Dean Herridge and Victorian co-driver Chris Randell held down tenth at the end of the leg. https://rallysportmag.com/feature-mineshaft-memories-may-be-all-thats-left/

LEG TWO

The second leg of the rally saw the skies clear and the stages dry out considerably. The stages for Saturday were a repeat of those used for leg one, seven stages totalling 110.2km competitive. Bourne and Stacey carried on from where they had left off on Friday, and gave the bigger crowds of Saturday something to cheer about. For instance, Taguchi and Ringer had won SS1, Mineshaft, on Day One with a time of 18 minutes 49.5 seconds. Possum won it on day two with a time of 16 minutes 52.3 secs - almost two minutes quicker!

Possum Bourne dominated the Mineshaft stage on leg two. Photo: Holmes

"It was a lot easier today to pick the slippery bits of road," related Possum at the end of the leg. "But you still had to be really careful and we still had the occasional fright." The biggest problem for Possum and Stacey all day was a leaking diff seal in one of the Impreza's diffs. The chasing pack included Neal Bates again, and he took a few second outright stage times in his Corolla WRC on his charge back. "We had a much better day today, and managed to stay on the road!" remarked Neal at the end of the leg. Taguchi and Ringer held on to their third place, but gave the Ralliart team both encouragement and heart problems. Taguchi landed the car so hard on the EPIC Super Special that night that the team had to replace some suspension components and the exhaust. This was after he had landed heavily after flying nose up over a crest on Pierces Creek 2 that morning. "We only test for two days before this rally," advised Katsu. "And the car is new, and I am enjoying the power, the different gear changing and the Group A car as a whole." Co-driver Derek Ringer agreed. "The deal for all of this to happen really only came about six weeks ago, so we have not really had much chance to get used to the car or each other. It doesn't seem to be going too badly at the moment. We are really starting from scratch - the car is not to Ralliart Europe spec - KYB shocks instead of Ohlins, Yokohama tyres instead of Michelin and so on. So we have to learn a lot ourselves," Ringer explained. They would start the last day 3 minutes and 21 seconds behind Bourne and Stacey. Behind the battle for the lead was the Group N leader, still Crocker and Foletta at the end of the second leg. "We had a relatively trouble free day today. We are still under a lot of pressure to retain the lead we have despite that." The only drama came on the second stage when a crest turned into a jump for the pair. "The road just disappeared from under us!" related Greg Foletta. Fumio Nutahara and Satoshi Hayashi were second in Group N and fourth overall, a long way ahead of the fifth placed Karamjit Singh. Then they had a 'roo jump into the co-driver's side of the windscreen, fortunately not through it, and they lost plenty of time, firstly repairing it and then trying to see through it.

Fumio Nutahara travelled from Japan for the rally. Photo: Holmes

They went off shortly after the creek crossing at the start of the fifth stage of the day, Sinclair's Circuit, and hit the bank on the outside. They ended the leg three and a half minutes behind the Impreza and just five seconds in front of Singh. "I can feel the others driving away now - there is not much we can do in the drier conditions today," Singh admitted. "But we will try to hold our position, and if anybody in front has a problem or a mistake, hopefully we will be right there." Kiwis Geof Argyle and Stephen Smith (Lancer Evo 6) were fighting hard with Singh over the sixth place held by Singh, until the Malaysian got in front after EPIC (SSS), but only by 2 seconds, to hold fifth overnight. They were in turn in front of the Evo 5 Lancer of Reece Jones and Leo Bult. The ex-New Zealand champions were chasing the current title holders. John Mitchell had moved he and Colin Trinder up to eighth and were still leading the FAI State Champion's Cup, while the move up the leaderboard had been donated by the Impreza of Jean-Louis Leyraud and Kiwi Mike Scott when it exited the rally. The New Caledonian crashed at the same spot as Holster and Tolhurst the day before, but had just gone straight off the road, fortunately without injury to themselves, but the same could not be said for the car. Second in the State Champions Cup was still Pedder and Humm, who had the Group A Lancer Evo 3 percolating on Saturday, setting top 10 times and moving up to 14th outright, despite their service crew chasing an assortment of problems all weekend. Dean Herridge and Chris Randell were still trying hard after having a major puncture near the start of the 14km Warks Road 2 stage. "We got it near the start and it finally started to disintegrate near the end. It has taken out all of the inner guard and even the panel into the boot," Herridge said. The team did well to get the car patched up and running again, but did not have time to align the rear suspension. Then after the EPIC Super Special, the scrutineers noted that the rear lights were not working at all. So the team had to scramble at the final service after the stage to get brake lights at least, which they did.

The EPIC Super Special provided crews a shot at $50,000 if they beat a set time. Photo: Holmes

They would chase Mitchell hard on the final day. Simon and Sue Evans were held up in the morning by a strange feeling in the Golf. "I came into the service and I said to the guys that it feels funny. We found then that the crossmember had been cracked when we damaged the steering on Friday," explained Simon. "We had to stop for good on the Warks Road stage, but we will be back tomorrow to learn more about the car." The Golf had become a crowd favourite, despite the driver saying he was only driving at about 70 to 80 %. Other heroes that the local spectators had taken a shine to included the Beckton brothers, Marty in Simon Evans' old Mark 3 Golf, and younger brother Ben, who had a Group A Suzuki Swift, possibly the best-sounding car in the rally, and was not afraid to throw it around! And two diminutive Subaru Vivios, with their 660cc motors and four wheel drive had the crowds enthralled as their experienced Japanese pilots put in some amazing times.

LEG THREE

The final day of the FAI Rally of Canberra still had a sting in its tail. The more open third day stages contained 76km of competitive challenges. There would be three stages repeated, then the final stage around the EPIC super special, to be run in daylight instead of the night stage it had been until then. The lead was secure for Bourne last year before he broke the front suspension and dropped back to second place at this point, and he was determined that he would not make the same mistake again in 2000. The Molonglo Ridge stage started just after 7am on a beautiful sunny Canberra morning which saw a little early fog surround the capital. The fog had not cleared properly before Neal Bates and Coral Taylor beat Bourne by 7 seconds over the 8.54km stage.

Neal Bates dominated Molonglo Ridge on day three.

However, the Corolla suffered hydraulic failure on the next stage, making the three diffs in the Corolla passive, the net result being an ill handling car and loss of time. Despite this, Bates would beat Taguchi a couple of times during the day, as the Japanese driver had a hard time, particularly when driving into the sun on the first two stages. "There is a lot of water on the stages, and the sun is very bad," he explained. Add to this the fact that the windscreen wipers failed, and vision was at a premium, especially into the sun, which there was a lot of on the Molonglo Ridge and Pipeline stages. Possum then went on to beat the whole field on every other stage, which must have felt like finishing the job he had started in 1999, winning his second Rally of Canberra. The recovering Nutahara was again pulling away from Singh and Argyle after the Group N Proton Wira lost some time to Argyle early on. The pair would swap times all day, as they fought for position behind the Impreza of Cody Crocker and Greg Foletta, who still dominated the Group N lead. Nutahara could do little and had to give best to Crocker. This gave Crocker third outright and probably his best result after his outright ARC win on his home event in Melbourne last season.

Cody Crocker clinched third position.

The Impreza had performed brilliantly all weekend, and the two young stars in the car were not affected by the pressure they were under, and appeared to do it all quite easily in the end. Geof Argyle had a flat tyre on the second running of Molonglo Ridge, and thought that his run was over, but the usually smooth Singh actually put the Proton into one of the concrete walls on the final run around EPIC and deranged his steering. This cost him fifth place to Argyle by two seconds. Singh had been suffering from an inconsistent brake pedal, and he felt that this may have contributed to this incident. A similar battle was brewing between the Lancers of Reece Jones/Leo Bult and John Mitchell/Colin Trinder. The Evo 5 had a lead of 2.5 seconds at the end of the second running of Pipeline 2, and the 2.4km super special was all that remained. The red Lancer Evo 3 of Mitchell took the win on the stage, however the Kiwi stayed in seventh, 0.002 seconds in front! They followed Bruce Fullerton and Hugh Reardon-Smith into the record books as the second winners of the FAI State Champions Cup. Dean Herridge and Chris Randell took ninth, with the rear of the Impreza looking a little worse for wear. "We have been testing some new suspension for Jamie Drummond today that is designed to soak up the bumps a little more - and they are working quite well," explained Dean. "We can't really catch the guys in front, and we can't really be caught by the guy behind." Martin Lintott and Tony Jackson (Impreza) had had an eventful Saturday, with a turbo failure on the second stage, followed by an 'off' that put a section of a tree through the left hand headlight and bent the bonnet up. "It was a little scary actually!" explained Martin later, but the pair soldiered on and they took tenth outright. Spencer Lowndes and WA's Justin Hunt took eleventh after a consistent run in the Lancer Evo 5. Their times improved markedly when a turbo problem that surfaced at Rally Australia was finally found on the Saturday night in Canberra! Scott Pedder and Paul Humm took twelfth in the Evo 3 Group A. They had taken a couple of fourth outright stage times during the day, the pair rarely being outside the top 10. It was a great drive from the 'No Bull' man!

The EPIC Super Special Stage at the Canberra Showgrounds.

Simon and Sue Evans had the Golf out to play again and set times equal to the better Group N cars. "This car is great, it is just simply a better 'evolution' of the old car," related Simon. "Most of the gains are in the suspension geometry, however the general set-up of the car is better - they have thought about everything. It has better grip, especially out of corners, better low down power, the lot." Did Evans have any dramas? "We actually whacked the first bridge in Molonglo Ridge today, apexing the corner. That's how much more grip there was!" The F2 win was not theirs, however, and it wasn't for their old car in the hands of Marty Beckton either. "We are ready to start now!" said Marty at the service prior to the final stage. "I am really starting to feel at home with the car. I might have to do some more of this F2 stuff, I think it agrees with me!" The F2 winner was to be one of the Corolla Levins that had made consistently quick stage times their trademark. In front for most of the rally was the blue and white car of Tamotsu Minamino and Mitsuhiro Yamamoto, but they suffered an unfortunate gearbox failure at the end of the first run of the tough Pipeline stage. This left F2 to their compatriot Masaki Yamada and ACT co-driver and ex-F2 Aussie champ (with Ross Mackenzie) Tony Brandon. Denise Collins and Gerard McConkey took the Honda Civic to second in F2 after a faultless run as usual from Denise, and third in F2 was Victorian Ashlea James and WA's Toni Feaver, who did well to bring the 1.3 litre and only-just-homologated Proton Satria to the finish. There were concerns at scrutineering that the Protons may not be eligible to run due to a homologation problem, but it was all sorted out and two took the start. The second running of the Asia Pacific round in Canberra proved that the organisers are learning fast and adjusting to the large scale FIA event on the east coast, and many teams expressed their wish to come back in 2001. There were 50 entries in 1999, 65 in 2000 - how many cars will face the starter in 2001? Plenty, if the action, the organisation and the attention to detail this year was any indication. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8r2j7hK6bk
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