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From the word go, the pressure was on for this year's Western Safari Rally. Not only was the outright championship hanging by a thread but also the two wheel drive championship and some of the class awards too.

This year the Light Car Club again chose the forest roads around Mundaring Weir to the East of Perth to stage the event. What was different this year to previous years was the change to a "blind" rally where pace noting was not allowed and crews had to use the organiser's road book instead.

Most competitors knew that the roads would be loose gravel and dusty. Many also knew that the roads would be rough and with the forecast tipped to be in the high 30's, it was going to be a day of strategy as much as speed.

Championship leaders Lee McIlroy/Ash Ridden were first out into the forest as car one (Spec C WRX) on the road with defending champions Leigh Hynes/Stuart Percival next in their WRX. McIlroy/Ridden would play gravel sweeper for the first few stages, however their hopes were pinned on late afternoon when the breeze may have dropped and the dust slowed those behind them.

Sadly it was not to be the case when on SS6, the pair retired with front suspension problems. The philosophical pair could only watch on now and see if the slim lead they held was enough to seal a championship title. For Hynes/Percival it now looked like being a straight forward job to finish the rally and become double champions.

Behind the two front runners, John Macara/Nic Box (Lancer evo 9) were charging through the stages. The pair won stage after stage, looking like they were on a mission. Only Derek Reddie/Lee Tierney (Galant VR4) and brother and sister Tom &  Nerralie Wilde  (WRX) looked like being able to possibly upset the rally leaders if they had a problem.

The rough roads and heat on the Safari were taking their toll. Mark/Angelina Travers and Steve Oxley/Chris Parish were out early with a blown engine and a roll over in their WRX's. Shane Eather/David Burton in a Datsun 200B also retired early with a blown engine, the second engine in as many events.

Amongst the 2WD competitors, Blair Pugh/Toni Feaver were leading the charge (Escort Mk II) against Julian Wright/Jeff Huggins (Datsun 1200) and Geoff Leatt-Hayter/Tammy Adams (Escort Mk II). As it turned out a problem in the second stage dropped some time and then perhaps trying too hard on the third stage put Wright/Huggins off the road for a long time and well down the order.

As the rally progressed, the conditions if anything, were getting worse. The mercury was at almost 38 degrees and the breeze had dropped earlier than expected, making the dust hang for longer between each car. Many competitors were being caught out by the roads and having some spins and overshoots on the loose gravel. Craig Richardson/Lisi Phillips (Galant VR4) slipped off the road for a while in SS3 and when in SS4 had a heavy collision with a tree whilst trying to make up time, ending their rally.

Perhaps SS9 was the cruellest of all the stages in the Safari. Hynes/Percival looked like easily wrapping up the championship and had only to finish when fate intervened. The clutch in the orange and blue Subaru failed for no apparent reason and the pair were left stranded on the side of the road with no forward motion. It must have been a bitter pill to swallow.

Through all the drama, 16 of the original 27 cars that started the state championship section of the rally actually finished. The top ten were in.

Jason Lowther/Matthew Teape brought their Twin Cam Corolla to 10th place behind Kiel Douglas/Anthony Paynter in 9th. The pair had an interesting day in the big V8 Commodore with a flat tyre, over heating and electrical gremlins losing them time. 8th went to Raz Vlad with Mark Davies alongside in the turbo charged Daihatsu Charade GTTi.

In only his second rally after a 16 year break, Nick King/Chris Jarvinen-King brought their Escort Mk II to a respectable 7th outright. Doug Tostevin returned to the WARC in a bright green WRX and with Craig Wimbridge in the silly seat, the duo bagged a 6th place despite earlier problems. 5th place went to Leatt-Hayter/Adams and 4th to Wilde/Wilde. Splitting the Turbo 4WD's was Pugh/Feaver on the podium in their rapid Escort in third place with Reddie/Tierney resurrecting themselves on this event to be second. Macara/Box took the rally win having won 7 of the 8 special stages of the day.

The Western Safari definitely changed the leader board for the state championship for 2009.
With two wins under his belt this year, John Macara overtook McIlroy and Hynes to win his 5th state championship title. Tom Wilde was runner up and McIlroy and Hynes finished the year 3rd and 4th respectively. Nerralie Wilde finished on top in the navigator stakes with Stuart Percival 2nd and Lee Tierney 3rd.

Two wheel drive honours for 2009 went to Geoff Leatt-Hayter/ Tammy Adams as well as the P3 (2L, 2WD) class awards for the year. Derek Reddie and Lee Tierney won the pre 1992, 4WD Turbo class (P6) in their Galant VR4. Kiel Douglas won Rookie driver of the year and also took the P4 (2L+, 2WD) class. In P4, a tie between Sharon Black & Anthony Paynter has taken place for the navigator's trophy.

Angelina Travers won the rookie navigator and N4 (Group N, 4WD Turbo) navigator, having sat alongside husband Mark (WRX) who took N4 driver for 2009. Brothers Craig and Scott Puzey won P2 (1.6L, 2WD) in their Mitsubishi Mirage and the P1 (under 1.3L, 2WD) award went to Julian Wright/Jeff Huggins in their fuel injected Datsun 1200.

Whilst the state championship may be over for 2009, the Clubman Series has one more round to run.
The Darling 200 rally, scheduled for November looks like being a nail biter too.

Open only to 2WD cars, Kevin Sleep currently leads the Clubman Cup in his Honda Civic to a tied Geoff Leatt-Hayter (Escort) and Travis White (Daihatsu Charade).

For all WA rally info including; results, seedings, points and regulations visit: www.rallywa.com
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