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Heading into the final round of the 2000 Australian Rally Championship, Possum Bourne and Neal Bates were equal on points in the fight for the title. When Bourne’s Impreza WRCar blew an engine, and Bates crashed his Corolla WRCar heavily, in the days before the rally, it threw a real spanner in the works. Neil Blackbourn was there for “The Final Showdown”. * * * * * Tasmania has hosted the final round of the Australian Rally Championship Super Series, and once again the city of Hobart would see the final play in the Driver’s Championship in 2000. With the corrected pointscores showing the two top drivers equal in points, and the final round offering double points, anything was possible. The typical Tassie stage is a rocky base with wide roads and probably the fastest stages anywhere in Australia - average speeds were up, and the situation was summed up well by first time visitor Richard Galley. "The speeds here are high – you really need big, umm, pants to drive fast enough to keep up here!" The weather was perfect in the week leading up to the rally, but on Friday during the recce the rain came down. The weather was described in the media guide as ‘fickle’, and it wasn't far wrong!

Possum Bourne clinched the 2000 Australian Rally Championship at the Saxon Safari Tasmania. Photo: Peter Whitten

ENTRY: Group A, Group N, the Privateer’s Cup, Aussie Cars and various classes were all yet to be decided, while the Proton Rally Trophy was just about decided. "We are going for a cruise this weekend," explained Ashlea James. "The tickets are booked for Britain, just not in our names!" explained co-driver Toni Feaver. "But they will be by the end of the weekend!" And the F2 title was just about decided, with the Pulsar (Sunny GTi) of Tasmanian Lee Peterson and Victorian Graham Legg-Stoker wanting to wrap up the title in the first heat. They would be chased as usual by the son and father combination of Brett and Graham Comber in the Charade GTi. Close to each other points-wise were the two Group N combatants Cody Crocker/Greg Foletta and Ed Ordynski/Iain Stewart who had been brought together by some dramas for both teams towards the end of the year. This was despite Ed winning the Rally NSW outright, and the Mitsubishi combination must have been underdogs to take the title. The Privateer’s Cup was in the balance, with the WA team of Dean Herridge and Glenn Macneall trying to push the Impreza hard enough to keep in front of the Lancer of Stewart Reid and Michelle Murphy. There was a groundswell of support for the Lancer crew as they have had a few events to ‘get back on the horse’. "Recce on Blue Gum was the hardest part for both of us," explained Michelle. Neither of us had been back there since our big crash last year, and when we got to the spot I couldn’t continue. We had to stop. I think I will be OK on the stage competitively though. We’ve been through there a couple of times now." With the Aussie Car class the fight was the old Holden/Ford battle between Paul Pyyvaara/Anthony McLoughlin in the Commodore Ute and the ex-taxi of Peter Menzies and Stephen Kennedy. These two would provide the loud sideways action, or would they – there would be two local V8 Commodores that would provide some action.

Ed Odynski and Iain Stewart were leading Group N competitors in their works Lancer. Photo: Peter Whitten

But all the action before the start would befall the top two combatants in the series. "We are just amazed to be in this position, able to challenge Possum for the title, especially after the Forest Rally at the beginning of the year," commented Neal Bates at the media day on Thursday. The Corolla WRCar was well tested and prepared after the two heat win at the Rally of Melbourne, and the team had some help from TTE, with one of their men from Cologne there as backup. The Toyota team seemed to have a good chance at the rally and the title in the week leading up to the rally when the Subaru team had a failure with the Impreza WRC98. "The cylinder head failed, and the parts to fix it were not exactly available locally!" explained a frustrated Bourne on Thursday. "But we should be able to test it tomorrow and see how we are travelling after that." When asked if the car would have been running on the Sunday if it had happened on the Saturday, Possum replied "no way!" But the air freighted (ex Japan!) parts made it to the team in time for the test prior to the rally. "It’s really good now, we have done about 100km in it and the engine feels stronger than it has been all year. I’m really looking forward to the rally now!" remarked Possum before the start. But the turn of fate that would befall the Toyota team would top this. After the media day on Thursday the team went testing. "It was the last run of the day, and it was the only corner in the stage that you would look at and say 'gee, I really don’t want to go off there!' It was a Right 6, I managed to get a little wide, and went off and started hitting trees," Bates relayed.

Neal Bates crashed his Toyota Corolla in pre-event testing. Photo: Neil Blackbourne

The car sustained damage to the right hand front, and the biggest drama was the right hand strut tower. The rest of the damage was to panels, which on a WRCar can be a drama, as they are not common to any of the donor model road cars! Fortunately, Toyota has a display car – Neal’s old rally car, and certain team personnel worked solid for the next 30 hours after the accident on the Thursday evening to make sure that the three-time Aussie champion would be able to take his battle up to the rebuilt Subaru. So, after all that, there was a rally to be won! HEAT 1: After their respective dramas the two teams would take to the dampish stages in the hills around New Norfolk, north west of Hobart, after coating the Hobart locals in dust and mud at the Derwent Entertainment Centre. The heavy rain that had come and gone during the Friday recce had reduced the dust, although most drivers reported that it hadn’t affected the stages that much. But the second stage took most of the sting out of the outright battle for the heat, rally and championship when the Bates Corolla stopped in the stage for 12 minutes. "It was simple really, the cam sensor fell off and it took some time to get the car refired. It provides the spark, so the car simply stopped. We got going again, but the damage was done time wise," explained Neal. "The car isn’t quite right though, which is to be expected. I think it is something to do with the suspension. The electrical problem had nothing to do with the rebuild though." "I’m finding it pretty hard to keep my concentration now the threat isn’t there from behind," Possum admitted mid-way through the day. "You really need to drive these cars hard, backing off even a little makes them harder to drive."

Cody Crocker and his Group N Subaru on the Derwent Entertainment Centre special stage. Photo: Morey Photographics

He had been playing with rear diff settings to make the car easier to turn into corners, and this had made the car react better to the throttle. Turn in, hold the car in a slide on the throttle. Less throttle or less commitment to the corner, then it would be harder to drive. But with the usual 'tail out' style Possum was thrilling the crowds, while co-driver Mark Stacey was trying not to think too much about his first outright championship! Behind and setting the Group N pace was Cody Crocker, but he and Greg Foletta had a puncture and dropped way back into the field. The Group N lead was then to be disputed between the two Mitsubishis, with the Privateers Stewart Reid and Michelle Murphy taking a shine to the similar (but not the same!) car of Ed Ordynski and Iain Stewart. "He is setting some great stage times as usual," related Ed at service. "We are really having to go hard to beat him. We can’t relax even with Cody so far behind us, as we need to have as many Group N cars between us as possible." Behind them the Privateer’s Cup battle was just getting started and would prove one of the battles of the year, with no less than four drivers in with a chance of taking it to the top Group N combatants. Reid and Murphy successfully (and quickly) negotiated THAT spectator point and then set about drawing quickly away from their main threat for the Privateer’s Cup overall, Dean Herridge and Glenn Macneall. The WA combination have done this event before, but in the old Hyundai Coupe. "We didn’t think that the tyres would need all that much grooving for them to generate the heat we need here, but we were wrong. I am getting to the mid-point of most of the stages and thinking ‘hey, I can throw the car into the corners now’, explained Herridge. The young gun was finding that the longer the stage, the less the time loss to the crews in front. Mid-point of stages the time between them was greater than at the end. "Oh well, we have taken today to find we have gone the wrong way, so we’ll fix it tonight and be ready tomorrow," he added. Behind, or sometimes in front of these crews on stage times, was another battle raging between Spencer Lowndes and Chris Randell in Spencer’s trusty Evo 5 Lancer and the Impreza of Brett Middleton and new-for-this-event co-driver Lyndall Drake. However, it became just a battle in times for Brett when they had a fuel pump failure on SS3. The car popped and banged it’s way through the 29km stage, and the time loss was done, and he was resigned to enjoying the new gearbox set-up he had in the car. "We have a dog box in for the first time this year and it is really working well. It gets out of corners so well now," he said. Lowndes was happy with his run so far. "Yeah, it’s OK, but I think I should be able to go faster. I think we are missing a bit of speed somewhere," he mused. So the chaser for Spencer became the Queenslanders Adrian Bukmanis and John Ahern, driving the Legacy. "I really just want to finish both days with a straight car," he said, – and it was all going to plan. "Nothing to report!" remarked Adrian at service. "All is going to plan so far!" Behind them came the Japanese/Australian combination of Osamu (Sam) Yamaguchi and Phil Dodd in the Japanese driver’s Evo 6 Lancer. The pair had set third fastest time on the short DEC Super Special in the morning, and had continued to have a smooth run on the morning’s stages, and then continued at what Dodd later described as a steady but very quick pace, no mistakes in the morning. "I have done a lot of driving in my time and it is great to co-drive for someone that you know means that you are in the right seat – the co-driver’s one!"

Queenslander Adrian Bukmanis, Subaru Legacy RS Turbo. Photo: Morey Photographics

Behind them came another WA driver, Tolley Challis, who with Elio Della-Maddelena were having their first run since the Forest Rally in April. The Evo 3 Lancer was running well. "We are having a good run actually," explained the Lancer driver. "And we are actually having a ball while we are at it!" Tolley is one of the few drivers to compete in all of the Rally Australia’s to date, and was keeping his hand in for that event. Before the final stage of the day, the monster 33.92km Lloyd stage, which is a combination of the second stage (Leesons) and the third stage (Blue Gum), Bates and Taylor had taken stage wins on all the stages after the electrical problem, but mostly only by two or three seconds. "We have to keep on trying, Possum may have a similar happening and then we are back in it," explained a hopeful Bates. "We really have to match the pace we are driving to our concentration level at the moment," said Possum. But the final stage could have seen anything happen, as the Tasmanian weather played another hand, with the rain coming hard and fast! "It wasn’t just scary, the wipers just couldn’t handle the amount of water on the screen, and with the fast sections being well over 170km/h, we couldn’t see a thing sometimes!" Possum said. He would take his final stage win of the day, making it four to Neal’s three, but the championship was now in his pocket. "We are so happy with this one, because we have been made to really work for it," he said at the end of day service. "I’m pleased we could even come here with a realistic chance at the title," Bates explained. "To look back and see where we were in relation to Possum at the beginning of the year, and to have taken the championship to the final round has been excellent." The Group N battle was hotting up between the Lancers, with Ordynski eventually taking the win in Group N and second overall. "It has been hard work, but we have to repeat this tomorrow," said Ed. The Lancer driver was one of many to spin on one particular corner in Lloyd, the elite group including Lowndes, Crocker and Yamaguchi, while Challis had a different problem. "Early on in the stage we lost the demister and everything fogged up quickly! I was out of the belts wiping the windscreen down every few kay’s – we may have lost up to three minutes. Very frustrating!" This dropped Challis behind both Middleton and local Tassie flyer Andrew Murfet and Will Logan in Andrew’s ubiquitous Pulsar GTiR. "It still weighs well over 1300kg, but we build ‘em tough in Tassie for a reason!" The theory worked, as it put him in ninth outright in front of Middleton and behind Yamaguchi, both driving much newer machinery. Steven Shepheard and Dale Moscatt had a quiet run to 12th, as they took a wrong turn on the super special. "We walked the stage and I had the layout wrong in my head," Shepheard said.

Privateer Stewart Reid in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6. Photo: Peter Whitten

Bates ended up 15th, while the F2 title was decided in favour of the Sunny GTi of Tassie’s Lee Peterson and Victorian Graham Legg-Stoker. "We had a great run yesterday, and we were really looking forward to a good hard go today," Lee explained on Sunday afternoon. But they would not be able to run on Sunday as Graham, had a small attack going into the end of Heat Parc Ferme, and that was that. Graham was OK after a day’s rest, though disappointed not to be able to help Lee out on Sunday. Right behind the F2 champs was the Aussie Car winner for the day, Paul Pyyvaara and Anthony McLoughlin. The Commodore Ute had a good run to the class win, as their main rivals went off the road. "We came into a corner that we had noted as a five – should have been a four! We slid wide and we ran out of road and spun off backwards. That was that, we weren’t getting out of that spot! Luckily it didn’t happen somewhere else with a big drop!" related Peter Menzies at the final service. The yellow Falcon would start day two, however. This left second in the class to local identity Les Walkden’s son Mark, with co-driver Kevin Weldon to take their ageing Commodore. The bellowing V8 sounded great though! The ARN Junior Challengers had a battle of their own, with Andrew Pannam and Joe Brick (Victoria – Pulsar GTi) taking the first heat from Andrew and Patrick Hannigan (WA, Charade GTi). The only other finisher in the challenge on day one was the Stanza of Queenslander Michael Guest and Paul Young, with SA’s Sam Brand (with Victorian co-driver Paul Flintoft) and Gavin Croker (NSW) and co-driver Nick Vardos (ACT) failing to finish. The Proton Rally Trophy was decided in favour of the series leaders Ashlea James and Toni Feaver, who were looking to write their names on the tickets to the UK for the series prize drive on the Rally of GB, while the only other Proton finisher were the Melbourne and Sydney based journos, Toby Hagon and Josh Dowling, who were throwing the Satria around with vigour! Heat 1 results:
Driver Co-driver Car Class Time
1 Possum Bourne Mark Stacey Subaru Impreza WRC WRC 1h07m43s
2 Ed Ordynski Iain Stewart Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6 N4 +3m37s
3 Stewart Reid Michelle Murphy Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6 N4 +3m41s
4 Dean Herridge Glenn Macneall Subaru Impreza WRX N4 +5m22s
5 Cody Crocker Greg Foletta Subaru Impreza WRX N4 +5m24s
  HEAT 2: The second heat of the Saxon Safari entails just 88.68km competitive after the first heat’s 121.41km, but the day would be a tough one as the weather could never be trusted to stay in one mode for any more than five minutes. As the teams woke up the weather was windy and looking like rain, and the rain came before the first stage had started. The first few cars would have had reasonably dry conditions, but after that the stages would almost all be wet, with snow falling during SS3! The lead went to Bourne and Stacey straight off, as the pressure was off and the Corolla WRC of Bates and Taylor was off the pace. The three time champion wasn’t sure what was wrong with the car. "It just doesn’t feel right – I think there is something out in the suspension or something - hardly surprising really! Our motivation is obviously down so we went out a little too conservatively." Bourne took a gravel tyre despite the snow. "We did the right thing as the snow was falling but the surface of the stage is OK."

Possum Bourne suffered a pre-event engine failure in his Impreza WRC. Photo: Morey Photographics

The battle behind the two leaders was once again full-on as the Impreza of Crocker and Foletta headed towards their third Group N title. The Mitsubishi of Ed Ordynski and Iain Stewart lost time with a suspension failure. "We broke the front suspension and we were lucky to just lose the 28 seconds we did," Ed said. This gave the break to Stewart Reid and Michelle Murphy, which gave another competitor, Herridge and Macneall, cause for concern as they needed to be as close to Reid to win the Privateer’s Cup for 2000. Reid meanwhile, was trying to defeat the factory Group N cars as well as trying to defend his Privateer’s Cup win last year. But the chaser was Ordynski during the day, as Ed wanted to beat Reid just as much. Crocker and Foletta had actually sealed the Group N championship the night before by finishing the day fifth overall (they had actually finished sixth). However, Dean Herridge and Glenn Macneall took a penalty at the final control to allow Crocker to take fifth and an unassailable lead in the Group N championship. Herridge also had to keep a keen eye on this situation! The stages then started to dry out as the rain and snow abated and the sun came out. The Junior Challenge became interesting as the second placed Andrew Hannigan had a spin at about 130km/h. "The steering rack worked it’s away loose and the steering had a lot more play in it than normal, and I lost it in the end. We are going to have to go like hell to get Pannam now," he explained. Tony Sullens and Julia Rabbett spun off the road as well, bogging the car, while the battle for the Proton Rally Trophy was a little more open today as more of the cars remained running. However the media car driven by Hagon and Dowling had a moment they will share with their dry cleaners when a wheel parted company with the car at a high - enough speed to get the heart pumping! The battle for the Group N lead was hotting up as the Lancers battled behind Crocker. Ordynski was catching Reid, but not as quickly as he would have liked. The Reid car was running on a combination of old and older tyres as they had used most of their supply on Saturday. But the Reid's stage times were quicker than Ordynski until three stages from the end, when Ed started to haul him in.

A pre-event crash couldn't stop Neal Bates' progress in Tasmania. Photo: Peter Whitten

The result would go to the final stage, the DEC Super Special, and there were some vocal spectators cheering for Ed – all dressed in Maximum Motorsport red! Ed did it, to beat Reid and Murphy to fourth by one second! Why were the Herridge team cheering for Ed? That gave them the Privateer’s Cup for 2000! Sixth for the heat once again meant that the WA based team had had a great run! Eighth would go to Bukmanis and Ahern, as they had watched some carnage in front of them, with the Lancer of Lowndes and Randell coming back to them as they dealt with a puncture on Styx Road. At least they could keep on going after Styx as Yamaguchi and Dodd simply lost a wheel on the stage. "The whole wheel and brake assembly parted company with the car. We didn’t even hit anything out of the ordinary. We thought we had a flat but the wheel was simply missing!" mused an amazed Dodd. This left Andrew Murfet and Will Logan in ninth once again, with the new Tassie champ Lynn Rattray and Simon Vandenberg in Lynn’s Impreza tenth. Tolley Challis and Elio Della-Maddelena took eleventh, once again affected by the lack of the demister in the car. The Charade of the regular ARC competitors Brett and Graham Comber had a fantasic run to win Formula 2 for the heat, just ahead of Andrew Pannam and Joe Brick, who took out the ARN Junior Rally Challenge to boot. The first Aussie Car home was Mark Walkden and Kevin Weldon in the noisy Commodore, but there was an even louder Commodore, with David Thompson and Adrian Morrisby giving the crowd something to cheer about when they ran the DEC stage very sideways! But the win for the year in the Aussie Car Class went to Paul Pyyvaara and Anthony McLoughlin. But the win of the heat, the rally and the Driver’s Championship went to Possum Bourne, making Possum the winningest driver in the championship, equal with Ross Dunkerton. "Has anybody got Roscoe’s number on them?" asked Possum at the finish! And it was Mark Stacey’s first national outright championship. The next thing to be decided is the manufacturer’s championship, with the big one, Rally Australia, to decide this. But congratulations to championship winners Possum Bourne and Mark Stacey (Outright, P5 winners), Cody Crocker/Greg Foletta (Group N, N4 winners), Bob Wyatt/Jim Caudle (N3 winners), Denise Collins/Gerard McConkey (Group N2 winners), Kim Drummond/Paul Young (N1 winners), Paul Pyyvaara/Anthony McLoughlin (P4/ Aussie Class winners), Lee Peterson/Graham Legg-Stoker (P3/ F2 winners, Brett/Graham Comber (P2 winners) and Chris and Nicole Lickfold (P1 winners). Which manufacturer will add their name to this list at Rally Australia? Heat 2 results:
Driver Co-driver Car Class Time
1 Possum Bourne Mark Stacey Subaru Impreza WRC WRC 48m15s
2 Neal Bates Coral Taylor Toyota Corolla WRC WRC +58s
3 Cody Crocker Greg Foletta Subaru Impreza WRX N4 +2m30s
4 Ed Ordynski Iain Stewart Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6 N4 +3m26s
5 Stewart Reid Michelle Murphy Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6 N4 +3m27s

To the victors, the championship – Possum Bourne (right) and Mark Stacey. Photo: Morey Photographics

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