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EVENT REPORT - By Tom Smith 

The same three drivers who filled the podium at Rally Queensland continued their battle for outright contention at the third round of the Queensland Rally Series – the Philcomm Rally Benarkin on Saturday May 26.

Steve Shepheard, Glenn Brinkman and Matt van Tuinen picked up where the ARC left off to finish in this order at the end of a demanding event.

Sponsored by long-time rally supporter Fred van Tuinen and his Philcomm operation, the rally was the third round of the 2007 City Subaru Queensland Rally Championship.

With the Clubman component running simultaneously for half the event, it was also a round of the City Subaru Clubman Rally Series for 2007.

The Clerk of Course for this year, Greg Bryant, had listened to competitors’ feedback to produce a rally route using some of the better roads in the district.

Past Benarkin events had earned something of a reputation for breaking cars, but the 2007 route used roads at Yarraman and Nanango – just up the highway – before finishing in the Benarkin forest.

Unfortunately the entry list was a little down on past years, with just 32 listed, made up of 18 contesting the full QRC, which would include night-time stages.

The Clerk of Course knew that Benarkin had also been dusty in the past and promised three minute dust gaps for the entire field, for the entire event – daytime included.

The start and rally HQ was based at the local Benarkin State School, where the annual QRC round was the highlight of the fund-raising year.

With ten stages facing the field, and ranging from 3.25km to 27.44km, the route took crews over multiple tests of just five different stages.

Steve Shepheard and co-driver Tom Smith led the field away in their Evo. 6 Lancer for a liaison up to the Yarraman area and SS1 ‘Philcomm 1’ of 11.48km.

The main challenge looked likely to come from ’06 Champions Glenn Brinkman and Steve Richardson, running an Evo 5 Lancer, with Matt van Tuinen in his familiar WRX Sti and a new co-driver Dave McNab.

Ian Menzies/BobMcGowan were looking forward to a good run in the HandyForm XR8, while Simon and Margot Knowles and had been getting quicker and quicker in the ex-Pedders Lancer Evo. 6.

Interest was focused on three crews, Ross Cox and Gerard McConkey in Coxie’s new VR4, New South Welsh driver Joanne O’Dell and Robert Bishop in an early Lancer Evo, and Steve Allmark/Craig Newell running as last car in the neat-looking Renault Clio ‘pocket rocket’.

The first stage presented interesting terrain with long whoop-de-doos and dips that didn’t always need a speed reduction.

Shepheard was quickest, from Menzies and Brinkmann with Shaun Gill/Jasmine Both taking fourth spot in their Evo. 3 Lancer.

Steve Tonna/Lorelle Greenwood showed some good speed in their Evo 5 Lancer while Erik Johnsson/John McCarthy are now finding both speed and consistency in their WRX Subaru.

Gillie’s good run ended with an off on SS2 ‘Telecoast 1’ to the north of Nanango.

This was a nice stage with some opportunity to open the throttle and Shepheard increased his early lead by another 31 seconds from Brinkman and van Tuinen.

Alan Clunes/Gav Weiland had a rare ‘off’ in their Mazda 323GTX when they crashed into a tree and withdrew with sufficient damage to prevent them from going further.

Murdo MacDonald/Pete Gerathy lost a wheel on their Impreza RS and also called it a day.

Down the field, Mike and Matt Bailey – sons of ARC Clerk of Course Errol Bailey – were having a good time in their Mazda RX2 and leading the ‘Historic’ category.

With a service and refuel at Nanango, the field then headed out to re-do the two stages with very similar results at the pointy end.

Ian Menzies and Matt van Tuinen were swapping times in two very different cars, but Peter Wass/Tony Agus retired their Datsun 1600 with broken wheel studs.

As the QRC crews returned to the same two stages, the Clubman competitors headed down to the Benarkin area to contest three stages – effectively SS5, SS6 and SS7 of the QRC route.

While Ross Cox/Gerard McConkey were leading the way in their VR4, the RX2 of Dave Ovenden/Cate Kelly was not far away, as was the Escort of Glen Mitchell and Bryan Zelinski.

After four stages the QRC field had a regroup, requiring crews to wait until night fell. The Clubman field finished their event at this juncture – after five stages and 80 kilometres of rallying.

Cox/McConkey took Clubman laurels from Ovenden/Kelly with Ryan and Rebecca Smart (Datsun 180B) just two seconds further back.

Fourth was Mitchell/Zelinski (RS2000) with Wayne Menzies/Chris Baxter rounding out the top five Clubmen placings.

The QRC was safely led by Shepheard/Smith on 48:20, from Brinkman/Richardson on 50:06, Knowles/Knowles on 50:52, Menzies/McGowan on 50:54 and van Tuinen/McNab on 51:00.

With the night stages about to begin, the organisers stretched the running gaps to four minutes in an effort to minimise dust problems.

A short blast over ‘Icom 1’ (3.25 kilometres) was first up and immediately crews could feel the difference in terrain between the loping roads of Nanango/Yarraman and the twisty roads of the tighter Benarkin area.

Shepheard remained focussed to add ten more seconds to his lead, then added a further 30 on SS6 ‘Vertel 1’ over 27.44 km.

On SS7 ‘Comtel 1’ (14.55km) the Knowles team received a derived time after taking advantage of the ‘rejoin’ rule.

Despite the four minute gaps, dust was reportedly still lingering but the roads were improving with every pass.

Steve Tonna was showing maturity in his driving, as was Erik Johnsson who was seen discussing driving techniques with others during the afternoon, in an effort to extract more from his car.

A short re-group followed the first set of three stages, and the sixteen remaining crews headed out to hit the same three stages again.

Brinkman won the second of these stages, the 27 km long ‘Vertel 2’, taking 12 seconds out of Shepheard’s lead, while Ian Menzies’ occasional bad luck struck again with the powerful Falcon reportedly suffering diff failure and was forced to park on the side of the stage.

With the finish in sight, the Benarkin stages had definitely improved and Steve Shepheard/Tom Smith celebrated another QRC victory, causing them to reflect back on their troubles they encountered in the same event last year.

Glenn Brinkman/Steve Richardson followed the Shepheard Evo 6 home, about three minutes behind, while Matt van Tuinen/Dave McNab overcame a few problems to grab third – another three minutes further back.

Steve Tonna/Lorelle Greenwood enjoyed a good event to take a fine fourth outright and Erik Johnsson/John McCarthy were pleased with a place in the top five.

Sixth outright went to Ross Cox/Gerad McConkey on their debut in the VR4, with seventh going to Dave Ovenden/Cate Kelly. Eighth were the NSW visitors, Joanne O’Dell and Robert Bishop who drove a consistent event and stayed out of trouble.

Small cars filled the remaining places in the top ten with Gary Stacey/Tony Blackshaw (Datsun Sunny) in ninth, two minutes in front of Ian Ogilvie/Tony Best in their familiar Datsun 1200 Coupe.

Another Benarkin QRC was run and won, and the organisers presented a good event with virtually no issues to report in the field.

The introduction of stages in the Nanango and Yarraman areas was both innovative and worked well, and the total of 160 competitive kilometres certainly tested competing crews on the day.

Thanks go to Philcomm for their continued support of the event and rallying in Queensland.

The QRC returns on July 14 with the Rydges Capricorn Rally at Yeppoon, near Rockhampton, on Queensland’s central coast.

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