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There was a scare along the way, but John O'Dowd claimed the opening round of the 2020 West Australian Rally Championship, the Truck Wholesale WA Bakers Hill Sprint.
Contested on Tolley Challis’ property, the Bakers Hill Sprint was made up of two stages, run in two loops in one direction, then two loops in the opposite direction, with a total of 58 competitive kilometres.
O’Dowd dominated proceedings, managing to hold off a fast-finishing Craig Rando who took second place, with Ben Searcy in third.
“It was great to be back in the car. Since last November we’ve only had a couple of private test sessions in the car, so I was a bit rusty to start with. But we got into a rhythm pretty quickly,” said a satisfied John O’Dowd.
“I did have an overshoot towards the end of stage three. We were running the Hoosier control tyres we will be using on ARC events. They do have a different feel to them, and it took a little bit of time to adjust to them.
“But, overall, the car was great. The only issue was we broke the rear driveshaft at the start of the seventh stage. We lost some time over stages seven and eight, but surprisingly not too much time. We managed to hold the lead for the entire event. I’ve got no plans to enter the 2WD championship, though!” quipped O’Dowd.
“This is really the first time I’ve had something major break on the car, and I’ve had it for just over 2000 competitive kilometres now. So it’s a real testament to the strength of Skoda Fabia and how well Race Torque prepare it prior to each event.
“It was just great to be back competing. Not only driving the car, but just being back in the service park and getting to work with the Race Torque boys and Toni (Feaver), my co-driver, and all of the crews we’ve competed against over the years. You don’t realise how much you’ve miss it until something like the events of this year come along.
“I did have plans for a full season in the ARC this year. That was going to be my main focus for 2020. But those plans are now on hold. With state borders closed, it’s just not practical to venture out of WA. Maybe we can do the Adelaide Hills round of the ARC in October, but we’ll just have to wait and see what happens between now and then.
“In the meantime, we’ll freshen the car up for the Forest Rally and Experts Cup events in September. If we can’t head east for the ARC, then I’ll concentrate on the WA championship.
“I must say a massive thanks to the organisers. Like all sporting series around the world, this year has thrown up some massive road blocks in terms of planning events. These rallies, even if they are only run over a single day, take months of preparation.
"So for the organisers to be as agile as they have been, with all of the challenges put in front of them, is just incredible. I’m just really happy we get to be back out in the forests, competing in the sport we love.”
The next of the WARC is the Make Smoking History Forest Rally and Experts Cup. The event is held on the weekend of September 12 and 13 and is run though the state forests near Harvey and Collie.
John O’Dowd is supported by Truck Wholesale WA, K-Craft Bullbars, Rent WA and Perth Cryoclinic.
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