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Our Rally Australia campaign started with two very long days on Tuesday and Wednesday doing recce - we were in the car for 15 hours on Tuesday and 14 hours on Wednesday.

On Wednesday night the guys took the car to be scrutineered but we ran into problems when the scrutineers wanted our seat mounts changed and a rear window wiper fitted to comply to Group N homolagation papers. We proved them wrong on the seat mounts but we were excluded from Group N and official results because of not having a rear wiper, which was very frustrating indeed.

Mick Ryan (from whom we had leased the car) tried his best to get us re-classed back into Group N throughout the weekend but his efforts were in vain so we remained in the PRC class. This was hard to accept as all weekend people could not keep track of our times and we had a huge following on the internet in Ireland. When our times weren't posted everyone thought we had withdrawn or crashed out. I literally received hundreds of texts from Ireland from people wondering what had happened.

Shakedown on Thursday was the first time I had driven the car with gravel tyres on so I was a little nervous and our weekend nearly ended before it began when we nearly rolled. We went too fast over a jump and landed on a bank and nearly flipped over so that was the wake up call I needed  to fully concentrate and ensure we finished the event.

The Super Special Stage on Thursday night was my first time rallying on tarmac and I can in all honestly say I have never been so nervous about anything so much in my life. I'm fairly laid back in nature but the occasion got the better of me and I owe a huge thanks to Nathan Reeves for calming me down and reassuring me before we started. We didn't get off to the ideal start when we overshot the exit on our first run and had to reverse, but our second pass was much better.

Up early Friday morning and it was Eoin's turn to deliver the calming words of wisdom to me and off we set on the first gravel stage. We had problems on Thursday night with the front wheels locking up under braking and pushing the car forward which made it understeer quite badly and this problem only got worse once we were on loose gravel. The first six stages I didn't feel comfortable with the car at all and was losing a lot of time as I had to brake really early and wash off the speed so the car would turn in.

At the first service on Friday the RallySchool team of mechanics quickly found the problem and fixed it and the first stage after service it was like a new car.  We immediately found our rhythm and with every kilometre I was growing in confidence and Eoin was calling the notes perfectly, so after that stage the trust in notes was good.

We finished off Friday really well with no risks taken and no damage to the car.

On saturday morning we were up at 5am to be greeted by rain so on our way out to the first stage we talked about the stages being slippy. We quickly adapted to the slippy gravel but made a mistake on a square right coming off wet, shiny tarmac and understeered into a fence post. We didn't hit it at any speed so we were able to reverse and continue without losing too much time. On the same first stage on Saturday morning, about 4km after hitting the fence, we came off a timber bridge which was like ice it was so slippy and just ran wide and dented the side of the car. we'd had two minor incidents but lady luck was smiling so it was not a big problem.

As Saturday continued, we were on a good fast comfortable pace and had no problems or moments. Our team manager, Mick Ryan rang at lunchtime and told me I had two jump starts recorded and there was a penalty of 1min.10secs so he just said not to be so keen off the line. The Super Special on Saturday night was no problem and our last pass we had our best time all weekend so it was good to be improving all weekend on the tarmac super specials.
Sunday morning saw another 5am rise and I pressed 'snooze' more than once on my alarm - the strains of the week were starting to show. We made the long transport out to Kyogle again and on the first stage we caught the car in front of us and had a bit of a scary moment coming over the flying fininsh and nearly rear-ended the car in front. The second stage was 21km long and again we overtook the car in front of us in stage and got caught in dust of the next car. All sunday morning we were in dust so we backed right off and on our way into remote service in Kyogle we both agreed to cruise home and ensure a finish.

The last six stages were really tough mentally and it took everything we had to concentrate. There were two serious accidents early on Sunday and I'm sure fatigue played its part in them. Again, I have to say that Eoin was a pillar of strength, keeping not only himself 100% focused but also keeping me focused and digging deep to keep us on the road.

The last stage of the rally was the 'sting in the tail' and 4km into the stage we caught the Evo 10 in front of us. Despite trying to pass safely we couldn't and we actually spun about half way through the stage. After that fright, we just strolled to the finish.

It was overwhelming to see all our friends at the finish line and it was indescribible the feeling we had to have finished a WRC event. We brought the car back to the service park and met the RallySchool team and it was a brilliant feeling to see smiles and appaluse all round.

I think with our overall times we finished 15th outright so it again was frustrating to be told by officials we were going to be second last over the podium. It was disheartening to see cars going before us that we were easily beating all weekend but that was the hand we were dealt so we were going to enjoy the moment. Once we got on the podium we jumped out of the car and I saw this gorgeous model heading towards me with a trophy.It was a complete surprise to find out we had won the PRC National Class and frustration turned to elation. It was one of my proudest moments to get my first rally trophy at Repco Rally Australia.

Itss an occasion that both Eoin and I will cherish for the rest of our lives and to have been part of such a fantastic team made the experience even better. I have to say a huge thanks to Mick Ryan for giving us the opportunity to compete in his RallySchool car and to all the mechanics who did a fantastic job throughout the weekend. I can't say enough about the team, friends, family and supporters that made the week so memorable.

Charlie Drake

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