Forty three West Australian rally teams descended on the small town of Balingup over the weekend for round one of the WA Rally Championship and the WA Clubman Rally Series. Using the Grimwade tree plantation for all of the special stages, the Lewana Stages Rally had plenty in store for those contesting the rally’s challenging roads.

Across 10 special stages, the car’s tyres had to work hard on the ball bearing gravel. In the rally’s recent history, the rate of attrition has been high. With the long break since the end of last season and the total competitive distance of some 124km, it would be interesting to see how many cars would slide off the road.

In comparison to the 2006 season, Maximum Motorsport had fewer cars to manage and service for the start of this season. Team leader, Rob Herridge/Elio Della Madalena, led the field away in their WRX. The duo set the third fastest time through SS1.

Last year’s WARC winning driver, Alex Stone, co-driven by Greg Flood, opened his account early. The pair took their WRX to a stage win ahead of James Anderson/Ben Searcy in their Spec C WRX. Whilst most got off to a good start, Toby Heyring/Peter Lindsay (Spec C) and Tolley Challis/Hannah Drury (Lancer Evo 7) had troubles in SS1. Both teams dropped a lot of time, tumbling well down the order.

With the same two teams taking the first two places on SS2, it was up to Doug Tostevin/Alan Cook to break up the trifecta. The pair showed their speed in their Subaru Legacy RS, setting the third fastest time through the stage.

Further back in the field Geoff Leatt-Hayter was making a welcome return to rallying. Running in his rebuilt Ford Escort with David Burton alongside, the pair encountered a few teething troubles early on. The Escort lost a wheel during liaison and then there was a constant paranoia as to whether any other wheels would come adrift! They continued to finish the event in 18th place.

In SS3 and SS4 Anderson/Searcy began to shine. They set two fastest stage times with Herridge/Della Madalena second on SS3 and Derek Reddie/Lee Tierney (Galant VR4) just two seconds behind, sharing third with Justin Kinnear/Adam Pearson in their Evo 7. Second for SS4 went to Leigh Hines/Stuart Percival (WRX) and third were Stone/Flood.

Prior to the start of SS4 the rally lost a couple of competitors. Mike and Catherine Civil retired their Lancer Evo 6 when Catherine became ill.
Phil Steel, and daughter Chantelle, were on their first rally together. The pair were having a great time until their WRX suffered a rear diff failure. Unfortunately without a spare diff, the team had to bow out early.

SS5 was the most technical stage of the rally. The stage was long, twisty and had some narrow patches to negotiate. It was a tough way to reach the mid-way point. For some it was also a wet welcome to the stages as some heavy rain fell in the forests. With the usual names filling the leader board, it was up to John Macara/Trent McCullough to take the second quickest stage time on SS5 in their WRX.

After a quick freshen up in service, teams then tackled the first three stages again. Familiarity, some rain and swept stages, tightened up all the times. SS6 had a tied fastest time between Stone/Flood and Hines/ Percival. The teams of Macara/McCullough and Anderson/Searcy were not far behind the stage leaders either.

Tom Wilde and sister Nerralie, were going well in earlier stages, hovering around 12th place. Unfortunately a badly leaking sump put paid to their day early.

In the last four stages familiar names filled the top three places.
In SS8 Kinnear/Pearson had a drama which dropped them around two and a half minutes to the leaders, a huge deficit to recover.

As dusk approached nature took over and the infamous Lewana hanging dust obscured vision on the stages. To add to the mix, some of the wildlife jumped out in front of a few cars.  Dave Thomas/Paul Church were having a huge 2WD battle with Blair Pugh/Anthony Chudleigh, both teams in Escorts. In SS9 Thomas/Church ended their rally, possibly due to the lack of visibility. The pair slid their Escort off the stage and got stuck, unable to recover the car.

As post event scrutiny was conducted the results were calculated.

Steve Oxley, navigated by Stephen Rance, brought their WRX to tenth place. Lee McIlroy/Steve Vass (WRX) had a trouble free run to be ninth, Challis/Drury recovered a little from SS1, finishing eighth and Tostevin/Cook made seventh.

Reddie/Tierney had big dramas with dust inside the car, however managed to get to the finish in a credible sixth place behind Macara/McCullough in fifth, with Hines/Percival in fourth.

Herridge/Della Madalena managed third place, although Herridge admitted later that if the Zero car had swept more gravel off the lines, he’d have been higher up the order!

Leading by a slender margin at two-thirds distance, Anderson/Searcy could not quite hold onto the lead until the end and finished second, a very strong result for the team. For Stone/Flood it was a case of showing what had won Stone the WARC in 2006. They won the rally by 32 seconds.

Thanks to the towns of Kirup and Balingup for their generous support, the Ascot Motor Club and all the officials who helped out on the event.

The next round of the WARC & Clubman Series is the Quit Forest Rally on April 27-29.

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