Motoring journalist Paul Gover writes an exclusive article for RallySport Magazine, naming his top 10 Australian Rally Championship drivers of all time.
Does seven titles make Possum Bourne number one? Does Ross Dunkerton make the cut? And who would you have driving for your life?
* * * * *
Possum Bourne is The Best. There are no ifs, buts or maybes about his place at the top of Australian rallying.
I have seen thousands of forest fighters in action since 1972, when Colin Bond ripped past me at the wheel of a Torana XU1 somewhere near Bulladelah and made rallying my sport. I've even driven a bit.
After watching all the champions since Bond and Peter Lang in Holdens, I have no doubt that Bourne is best of the best in my personal rankings, and even when he is measured by his own rules.
"It's bloody simple," Bourne tells me in Sydney during the 90s, when he is chasing the Australian Rally Championship in his Prodrive Impreza.
"One stage. Two drivers. Same car. Who wins?" he asks.
"There are only two rules. Your bloke must finish the stage. And it is FOR YOUR LIFE."
It's a game we play many times, usually with Bourne making nice with a glass of bubbly, working our way right through from the local wannabes to the heroes of the world championship.
He puts Tommi Makinen above Colin McRae, because the Scotsman is too flaky. My personal choice for number one is Walter Rohrl, a winning machine with ice in his veins.
We argue and argue. He laughs. He taunts. Every night of ‘Race For Your Life’ is special.
So, what about the ARC?
Bourne has the best record, even better than Ross Dunkerton, but there is so much more to his story.
I saw him beat Greg Carr in Rally Australia on a slimy day south of Perth, when his Subaru Leone should be no match for an ex-factory Lancia Delta. But he has practised the stages 12 times, even waiting for rain to test the grip, and cleared stones from the long grass to make shortcuts easier.
I ride alongside him on a Canberra stage in his Impreza WRC, running at full rally pace. It's something I cannot forget.
And I also see him hotdog around a gnarly downhill left-hander, smiling like a loon, on a corner he has nominated as the best spectator point of the day.
"Come watch me there. It will be worth it," he says. And it is.
Now he is gone, but not forgotten.
For me, Bourne is always in the here and now, not the past. He is bigger than life, special in death, and the man that no-one has come close to trumping.
So ride along for a minute as I run through my personal top 10. And remember those rules, but mostly the big one that was everything for Bourne - it has to be ‘For Your Life’.
1. Possum Bourne – Australian Rally Champion 1996-2002
Speed is one thing, but Bourne is all about commitment. He does anything and everything it takes to win. That means the best car, the best co-driver and the best deal from Subaru to fund it all. He is plain crazy fast as a kid, but when he gets some maturity he becomes unbeatable. He even parks his favourite WRC weapon and keeps winning in Group A. So, why doesn't he make it to the WRC in a factory Subaru. He is trumped by Piero Liatti, who brings Pirelli to Subaru in a double-bluff that even Possum cannot beat.
Possum Bourne pours the spoils over co-driver, Mark Stacey, after taking out the 2002 championship. Photo: Jeff Crow
Bourne adapted to Group N like nobody expected, winning another title. Photo: Stuart Bowes
2. Greg Carr - Australian Rally Champion 1978, 1987, 1989
Carr is the best of his generation, in the days when the ARC is a full-on battleground between Ford and Datsun. It's high stakes rally poker and no-one trumps him for speed and commitment. He plays chess to improve his concentration, spends every weekend practising in his Canberra forests, and only needs a reliable car - sometimes hard to find, or easy to break - to do the job. Two trips to the UK prove his potential, but he settles for a safe place in the public service instead of gambling on a shot at the WRC.
Greg Carr (left) and long-time co-driver Fred Gocentas prior to their UK experience.
Greg Carr finished in the top 10 in the Lombard RAC Rally in Great Britain in a works Escort.
3. Simon Evans - Australian Rally Champion 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010
Brave. Crazy at first. In the early days you never bet on him finishing any stage, but once he hooks up with Neal Bates - and learns about slowing down to go fast - he becomes special. He shows me his speed the first time in a front-drive Golf GTi, which he also rolls on the first Super Special at Rally Australia, and continues through the years. He is another who should head to Europe and he tries once, but it's not enough. On his day, fully formed, he is formidable.
Simon Evans was a fan favourite throughout his career – and rightly so. Photos: Peter Whitten
4. Colin Bond - Australian Rally Champion 1971, 1972, 1974
Hannu Mikkola says he is world class after clashing with him in the Heatway Rally in New Zealand in the seventies. He is past his prime when special stage rallying shifts into gear, and his great mate, John Dawson-Damer, holds him back as they enjoy their time together, but he sets the standard for generations. Bond has sublime speed and that is enough in his days as the point man for Holden in the forest.
Colin Bond was a champion in rallying and circuit racing – a true legend of the sport.
Bond tries to tame the Triumph TR7 V8 on the Dunlop 2GO Rally in Gosford.
5. Wayne Bell
He is fast the first time I see him in a Galant, and still fast when he takes Hyundai into the World Rally Championship. In between, he does lots of winning but never puts all the pieces together for a championship. Does it matter? Not so much to Bell, just as Stirling Moss revels in his ranking as the best driver never to win the F1 world title. He is sensational to watch and only team orders prevent him beating Peter Brock to the big prize in the 'Round Australia of '79.
Wayne Bell started Hyundai's WRC aspirations, running a Group N Lantra in the Australian Rally Championship in the early 1990s. The Sydney driver never won the ARC.
6. Geoff Portman - Australian Rally Champion 1981, 1982
How would you feel if you climbed all the way to the top of the ladder, and then someone smashed the final step? That's what happens to Portman, who does everything right on the way to leading Datsun in the ARC just as the company switches from rallies to races. Memories of Portman centre on his elegance, perhaps born from his time as a Victorian forester, but more likely from a full bottle of talent. Even in his fifties he has enough pace to rattle youngsters in historic cars.
Geoff Portman was a privateer who made his way to the top.
Geoff Portman splashes his way through tough conditions in the Alpine Rally, driving his famous "Grunter" Datsun 1600.
7. Neal Bates - Australian Rally Champion 1993, 1994, 1995, 2008
Such a pity he peaks as Possum is at the height of his powers. And that Toyota never spends enough to level the playing field against Subaru. Bates is tagged as Mister Two, first of the losers, but he is still good enough for four titles and his speed in his historic Celica today is proof of his prodigious talent. He also embarrasses plenty of people as “The Stig” in Top Gear down under and runs hard and fast in the Bathurst 1000. He is a nice guy, too.
Neal Bates in his office in 1995. Photo: Stuart Bowes
Neal Bates pilots the Celica around a well travelled piece of Coffs Harbour forest. Photo: Stuart Bowes
8. George Fury - Australian Rally Champion 1977, 1980
Another from the glory days, with plenty of speed and a burning desire to win. Perhaps it's down to his Hungarian immigrant background, but he is the only one with the pace to challenge Carr. His brilliance helps him to transfer successfully to touring cars, although he is always a bit weak in the stages if things are not going right. These days he still farms in Talmalmo, near Albury, but has given up driving the school bus.
George Fury in his heyday as Datsun's lead driver in the Australian Rally Championship.
George Fury pushing his Datsun 710 SS hard in the Southern Cross Rally. Photo: Bruce Keys
9. Ed Ordynski - Australian Rally Champion 1990
There is steel beneath the gentle and quietly-spoken facade that carries Ordynski into battle. He works hard at his craft, even watching his fuel economy on transport stages to run light on the specials. He convinces me he has real speed at the 1000 Lakes in Finland, where he attacks like he never does at home. Mister Ed always brings his A game to Rally Australia, which is his personal Mount Panorama and as import to him as Bathurst is to any V8 racer.
Mark Nelson and Ed Ordynski (right) at the Rally Retro Day in 2020.
Ordynski took a string of victories in the Les Walkden Rallying Lancer Evos. Photo: Stuart Bowes
10. Peter Brock
A stupid mistake in a stupid road rally cuts him down, but Brock proves his pace enough times in real forest fights to earn my respect and a top-10 spot. He has the advantage of factory Holdens, but uses both Geminis and Commodores better than anyone expects of a touring car star. Anyone who sees him in the Castrol Rally, driving a battered ex-Repco Trial Commodore, learns what he can do when he cuts up in the rough.
Peter Brock's Round Australia Trial victory was one of the highlights of his career.
And the rest?
Ross Dunkerton never quits, but never has the ultimate speed.
Chris Atkinson does his early learning on local roads, but we never see him at his best, or in a serious WRC car.
Eli Evans is a champion, but never beats the big boys.
Cody Crocker stars as a kid, but never emerges from Possum's shadow,
Michael Guest is fast but flawed, David Officer is beaten by Portman, and at least one recent champion buys the title.
So, what do you think? Remember, for your life …
Written by Paul Gover. Originally printed in RallySport Magazine, 2013
Ross Dunkerton won five ARC titles, but couldn't make Gover's top 10. Photo: Martin Holmes
Cody Crocker (centre) celebrates with Possum Bourne, and his co-driver, Greg Foletta. Photo: Stuart Bowes
Chris Atkinson was a factory Subaru driver in the World Rally Championship. Here he is at Rally Monte Carlo in 2006.
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