Round 1 of this year’s WARC & Clubman Cup, the Donnelly Rally was hosted around the tall timber forests of WA’s southwest in mid March. One of the fastest rallies of the year, competitors of the 40+ strong field were in for a great opening battle.

As dawn streaked across the Western sky, the autumn weather was slightly cooler than the previous few days. Competitors headed out early to complete pace noting in the morning before the actual competition started at 2:00PM.

Normally known for damp roads and wet weather, the date change had given this year’s Donnelly dry roads with dust. Rain showers later in the day did help to damp down the dust a little and the roads were still fast and loose on the outside in some places.

Lee McIlroy, this year navigated by Lee Tierney set off as car one for this event. McIlroy had changed to a different WRX this year, after selling the Black Spec C Subaru from last year that carried him to 3rd outright in the Championship. Being first car on the road can be a disadvantage as the first car acts as a gravel sweeper, moving much of the loose surface of “ball bearings” off of the racing line. The loose gravel nearly caught the pair out on the very first stage. A tricky right hand bend at the spectator point saw the white Spec C narrowly miss a large tree with the left rear of the car.

2008 State champions Leigh Hynes & Stuart Percival continued their run of bad luck from the end of last year’s season.  The duo entered the spectator point of SS1 a little too hot and belted the same tree McIlroy/Tierney had just missed. This time there was no escape and the damage to the left rear of their orange WRX soon ended in retirement.

The long off season and inexperience for some caught out a few competitors during the day. Gavin Morgan/Chris Parish Spec C WRX retired in SS3 and Graeme Miles/Luke Goodman retired their new WRX in SS5. New competitors Alexander Lorkiewiez/Tyron Swain rolled their 4WD turbo Mazda 323 GTX, whilst Tim Ralli on his first event, (navigated by Karen Russell) ran wide on a culvert and beached his Hyundai Lantra for a while in SS4.

After the first couple of stages, most teams started to find their groove. Amongst the top contenders, stage wins were shared between John Macara/Dianna Madlner (Evo 9), McIlroy/Tierney, and Roman Watkins/Toni Feaver (Spec C WRX). For Watkins, this was this first rally he’d attempted in two years.

After six daylight stages, teams prepared for the final two night stages that lay ahead. At the final service, crews hurriedly bolted on extra lights to the cars to tackle the night.

As darkness fell, the forest became eerily quiet and the autumn night air began to get damp as the mercury dropped. Through the darkness, the anti lag of the turbo cars could be heard echoing like gun shots long before the cars were close enough to see the lights flooding the forest road with light. Similarly as the cars passed by, the anti lag crackle was accompanied by flames from the exhausts, seen as flashes behind the cars as the drivers lifted to change gear or brake for a corner. The naturally aspirated cars too could be heard screaming through the forest long before they appeared in view. The sound of twin side draft Webber carburettors driven in anger, still stirs the blood of many.

There were several contenders for the 2WD honours at this year’s Donnelly Rally. Escorts had shown a strong presence with not less than six of the 30 year old+ cars taking the start line. Breaking up the Ford Squad was the V8 brute of Kiel Douglas/Anthony Paynter’s Holden Commodore. The pair did finish the rally, however a mysterious problem robbed the big 5L engine of power. Several front wheel drive cars also featured prominently, such as Travis White/Greg Flood’s Daihatsu Charade.  At one point the pair were setting stage times in the top 6, unfortunately the Charade retired from the rally in SS7.

Last year’s 2WD champions Geoff Leatt-Hayter/Tammy Adams bogged their Ford Escort in the soft dirt on the edge of the road for some time on the second last stage. Up until that point, they’d been having a ding dong battle for 2WD with Blair Pugh/Ross Burton in another Mk II Escort.

After 8 special stages through the somewhat dusty tall timbers, the results were in.

Rookie WARC navigator went to Katherine Smither who sat alongside Brent Dunlop in their new WRX. Dunlop had not competed in a rally for the best part of 10 years and a huge effort by their team allowed the pair to not only start the rally, but to finish in 11th place.

Beau Robinson/Anthony Chudleigh (Evo 7) won WARC rookie driver and took tenth place on Robinson’s first outing. Nick Box/Mick Steele returned to the WARC after a considerable break and took ninth in their Evo 8. Seventh place and 1st 2WD went to Pugh/Burton, behind Doug Tostevin/Jon Mortimer in their green WRX in sixth.  Brother and sister, Tom & Nerralie Wilde (WRX) opened their WARC points account for 2010 with a secure fifth behind Chris Anderson/Ben Searcy (Spec C WRX) in fourth.

McIlroy/Tierney took third place after a solid performance, just over 1 minute adrift from Macara/Madlner in second. Dust had played its part for most of the day and the lead had see-sawed back and forth. By the last stage a steady rain shower reduced the dust enough for the leading drivers to increase their pace. At the finish line, Watkins/Feaver, had driven hard and snatched the win by just 14 seconds. 

The Clubman Cup win went to Andrew McDonald/Aarin Hahn after a good drive in their Toyota Sprinter. Rookie driver in the Clubman section went to Andy van Kaan (Toyota Levin) and Rookie Clubman navigator was awarded to Daymon Nicoli, the youngest competitor in the field who sat alongside Raz Vlad in his Daihatsu Charade GTTi.

The next round of the WARC & Clubman Cup is the Quit Forest Rally. The event will run in Busselton and Nannup from the 16th – 18th April.

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