Round 2 of both the WA State Rally Championship (WARC) and Clubman Series was a big event. Unlike the normal one-day rallies that make up the other rounds, the Quit Forest Rally was also a round of the Australian Rally Championship and the event was run as two heats over 2 days.

The Forest had approximately 200km of competitive special stages that started on both Friday and Saturday nights with two sprints around a tarmac super special stage on the Busselton foreshore.
Coupled with the 14 eastern states entries, 41 WA teams lined up for the biggest rally on WA’s calendar.

Pace noting on the Thursday before the rally showed some very interesting conditions. Heavy rains in the days preceding recce had turned the roads to slippery mud in a lot of places. If the same weather continued, even soft tyres with mud cuts were going to struggle to provide traction.

As it turned out, by Friday evening when the rally started, the weather had remained dry all day and by the end of the weekend, the weather was warm and sunny.

On Friday night, the two stages around the Busselton tarmac gave crews one last chance to dial themselves in before the competition got underway in the forests the next day. Most crews had tidy runs around the short course . For the two V8 Commodore teams of Kiel Douglas/Anthony Paynter and John/David Bruinsma, it was a case of who could get the most smoke out of the rear tires at every corner to the delight of the large crowd.

Saturday morning brought all of the teams to the normally quiet town of Nannup, some 50km away from Busselton. After a quick service in the main streets, competitors headed out to begin their gravel assault.

Not far into the first day, it was apparent that some were having a troubled rally. At the first service, last year’s WARC winner John Macara with Dianna Madlener alongside had a fuel line problem. The pair lost a lot of time in service before the car was repaired and re-entered the rally at the start of SS5.

Blair Pugh/Paul Helm had a drama in their Ford Escort early in the piece too. The oil cooler had started leaking on a stage and by the time the engine was shut down, unfortunately too much damage had been done. Lee McIlroy/Lee Tierney were also not having a good start to the Forest. The Spec C WRX’s center differential was playing up, sending drive randomly back and forth between the front and rear wheels. In the end, the diff finally stopped working altogether and the pair were out of the rally.

Roman Watkins, navigated by Toni Feaver (Spec C WRX) were also having transmission problems. A gearbox change later in the day put them back into contention for the last few stages of Heat 1.

With Pugh/Helm out early, Geoff Leatt-Hayter/Tammy Adams led the 2wd pack in their Ford Escort. Late in the afternoon, the Escort’s diff was making ominous noises and their service crew replaced it after finding a lot of broken teeth in the axle housing. The second diff didn’t fair much better than the first. Just a stage and a half later, the diff had expired again, this time causing retirement from heat 1.

Jo McIlroy with Ash Ridden alongside, were having a great day until the last stage of heat 1. The pair sheared the front left wheel studs on the short Nannup oval spectator stage and lost some time getting the wheel back on and making it back to service.

The top 10 for heat 1 read like this:

In tenth place was Graeme Miles/Luke Goodman (WRX). Gary Whittle/Ryan Doe had swapped a Datsun 1600 for a WRX and were rewarded with ninth place. Eighth went to Julian Wright/Jeff Huggins in their always-rapid Datsun 1200. Peter Flood/Mal Crockenberg brought their WRX to a tidy seventh place behind Beau Robinson/Anthony Chudleigh (Evo 7) in sixth. Doug Tostevin/Gill Smith made fifth place in their green WRX behind Watkins/Feaver in 4th. Leigh Hynes/Stuart Percival took their orange WRX to third place for the heat, 9 seconds adrift from Tom and Nerralie Wilde (WRX). First place for Heat 1 went to Chris Anderson/Ben Searcy (Spec C WRX).

After a 2-hour service in Nannup in the late afternoon, crews headed back to Busselton to start their tarmac runs and heat 2 on Saturday evening.

Heat 2 started much the same way as heat 1. Again the Commodores were the crowd pleasers, sliding around with “Gay Abandon” as the commentators put it.

Back in the Forests on Sunday morning, the roads had dried very well and the lines were well swept of loose gravel. Many drivers commented on how most of the roads offered excellent grip. Some though, were caught out with a few teams finding the scenery during the day.

Some of the teams were again struggling with mechanical issues too. Leatt-Hayter/Adams’ crew had found another diff and put it into the Escort late on Saturday night, the third for the weekend. After a couple of stages in the morning, the car had broken an axle. The crew then removed the diff for an incredible 4th time and replaced both rear axles to keep them in the event.

Fellow teammates Douglas/Paynter had been challenging for 2WD when a front suspension “Z bar” broke on the Commodore and dropped them some time. Mik Healey/Alex Bertrand were also having some problems. Their Ford Escort had front suspension damage that was slowing them up. After a good finish in Heat 1, Tostevin/Smith dropped a lot of time in Heat 2 when they broke a driveshaft and had to re-start the rally after recovery and repairs.

Probably the luckiest escape was Anderson/Searcy. During the course of the day, the pair had managed to roll their WRX twice which lost them time and dropped them down the order, however they did mange to finish.

Some were not so lucky to get through heat 2.

After a good result in Heat 1, Robinson/Chudleigh retired from heat 2 on SS13 with a mechanical problem. Hynes/Percival rolled their WRX into retirement in SS16, Bruinsma/Bruinsma found a tree in SS17, halting any further movement of their Commodore and Graeme Harper/Kori Mez (Daihatsu Charade) saw the world upside down in SS18, ending their weekend. Perhaps the most unfortunate team of the weekend was Tim Ralli/Karen Russell.

Their Hyundai Lantra had a given a relatively trouble free run throughout the Forest until the very last stage of the rally. Within 1km of the finish flag, a clutch/transmission problem intervened and the Hyundai was capable of no further movement. The hole in the transmission casing told its own story.

After a dramatic weekend the final results were interesting.

Raz Vlad with young Daymon Nicoli alongside brought his Daihatsu Charade GTTi to tenth outright. Miles/Goodman made a tidy ninth behind Macara/Madlener and Hynes/Percival who were in equal seventh place. Whittle/Doe had a brilliant debut event in their new WRX to finish in equal fifth with Wright/Huggins who also took the 2wd honors for the rally. With the win in heat 1, Anderson/Searcy maintained enough points to take fourth for the weekend in their somewhat second hand looking WRX after an eventful heat 2.

Flood/Crockenberg maintained their speed and also had some good fortune to take a well-deserved third place. Watkins/Feaver recovered form the gearbox problems of heat 1 and drove to a fine second place outright behind the Wilde & Wilde combination. Last year, the Nannup local brother and sister were licking their wounds from a heavy roll in their black WRX, this year a dedicated drive put the pair at the top of the podium.

The next event in the WARC & Clubman Cup, the Lewana Stages rally is due to run on the 15th of May in Ballingup, again in the Blackwood river area of the state’s southwest.

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