Last weekend saw an intense and enthralling battle take place with the first round of the 2014 Hankook Tyre Queensland Rally Championship. A field of 46 competitors from all over Queensland converged on the local forestry township of Manumbar, 150km north of Brisbane.

The event was staged over 150 kilometres of competitive forestry roads consisting of three stages, run three times in an around the Manumbar and Gallangowan State Forest. The competitors were keen to make their mark early, and to commence the start of the Queensland rally season with high hopes and aspirations for the year ahead. Crews were met with hot, dry and dusty conditions setting the scene for very high speeds and very quick stage times. However, not far from the back of competitor’s minds, was Gallangowan’s reputation for being unforgiving and harsh.

Matt van Tuinen won the event in his Subaru WRX.Car 1 of Rob Bishop and Jo O'Dell in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 3, presented to the start line of the time control, with 45 contenders ready for battle right behind them, all awaiting to unleash their fury on the stages ahead.     "10 seconds"   With two Queensland Rally Championship wins under their belt, and looking for their third title.    "5 seconds"    Heart rates increasing and the feeling of sweaty palms, the nervous apprehension, all about to fade in an instant.    “3,  2, 1,  GO!"
The heat was on early as the 46 car strong field pushed their way through the opening two stages. The dust had barely begun to settle and the top three leading cars of Bishop, Swart and Menzies were setting the pace and only separated by one second margins.

Part way through SS3 Rob Bishop and Jo O'Dell left the road at high speed and crashed heavily down an embankment and into a nearby creek. The stage was stopped and cancelled as the ambulance attended and treated both Rob and Jo at the scene. Driver, Rob Bishop was later airlifted out by helicopter to a nearby hospital for treatment and stayed in overnight for observation.
Second placed Marius Swart withdrew from the event at the first service with his S2000 Volkswagen Polo, losing power steering and suffering clutch failure.
With the exits of Bishop and Swart after the first two stages, and with the cancellation of the third stage, the door had been opened with six stages remaining for Ian Menzies in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6, Matt Van Tuinen in the 2006 Subaru WRX, and Kent Lawrence in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8, with Wayne Menzies and Chros Baxter lurking quietly in the back ground.
After a re-group and 30 minute service back at the Rally HQ service park, crews headed out to SS4 to commence the second passing of the first three stages.
Across the following three stages of SS4, SS5 and SS66 the intensity of competition increased between the top 3 leading rivals with the competitors consecutively pushing harder and shaving over 10 seconds off their previous stage times from their earlier run. After six stages, Matt van Tuinen had taken the lead and was starting to edge away with a 25 second gap over Ian Menzies, and Kent Lawrence a further 9 seconds behind in third.
With the last three afternoon stages left to run and competition remaining close, times came down to the narrowest of margins. It was still anybody's game. Upon completion of 100 kilometres and six stages, conditions were starting to deteriorate rapidly. The harshly dry forestry stage surfaces started to open up quickly allowing rocks and stones to emerge to the surface, with capabilities of causing considerable damage.

The extreme nature of the event was beginning to take its toll on team and machine. Service crews were under pressure and put to the test of being pushed above and beyond to keep the cars running as mechanical issues were starting to plague the field.
With crews about to head out to the start of SS7, one crew not to re-join the field was Car 4 and third placed competitor Kent Lawrence and Stephen Andrews. The team made the decision to withdraw as navigator Stephen Andrews fell dangerously ill due to effects of dehydration.
At this point in the event an approaching balance of self preservation with consistent stage times would be required to get the cars home and take away maximum points for the win. But with the racing so tight and event honours up for grabs, there was no time to back off and relax, with it going down to the wire, it was either go hard, or go home, all at full throttle and maximum attack.
On completion of SS7 and SS8 the VT Racing Team of Matt Van Tuinen and Erin Kelly stepped up the pace even further distancing their closest rival Ian Menzies by a blistering 47 seconds and third placed Wayne Menzies gaining 13 seconds back on second.
On SS8 Car 39 the Subaru WRX of Steven Bailey and Chris Cook came to grief when a tyre blew out at high speed just five kilometres from the end of the stage. The vehicle careered into a bank with the front of the car, and rolling several times down the road came to rest on its roof blocking the stage. Both driver and navigator walked away shaken, battered and bruised. Navigator Chris Cook was later airlifted by helicopter to hospital for precautionary measures.
With one stage left to run, there would be no catching the VT Racing Subaru. Upon completion of the last 28 kilometres off SS9 and after the events 150 kilometres of competitive stages, the winning combination of Matt Van Tuinen and Erin Kelly took out event honours and first outright in the opening round of Hankook Tyre Queensland Rally Championship. Second and third positions remained unchanged with the Bespoke Engineering Evo 6 Lancer of Ian Menzies and Robert McGowan coming in second and closely followed by the central Queensland crew of Wayne Menzies and Chris Baxter.
The 2014 Aussie Bush Rally of Gallangowan lived up to its reputation of pushing every team and machine above and beyond their limits. The high attrition rate only saw 25 of the 46 starters complete the event, and with Round 2 only three months away, car re-building and prep work will be kicking into overdrive.
Round two and three of the Hankook Tyre Queensland Rally Championship will be held in the Imbil State Forest on July 20th to 22nd, run in conjunction with the prestigious International Rally of Queensland.
Round 1 QRC Outright
1. Matt Van Tuinen / Erin Kelly -  2006 Subaru Impreza WRX Sti
2. Ian Menzies / Robert McGowan  - 1999 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6
3. Wayne Menzies / Chris Baxter  - 2003 Mitsubishi Lancer
2WD Class
1. Clay Weston / Brendon Wrigley - 2009 Ford Fiesta
1. Shaun Dragona / Annette Dragona - 2002 Subaru Impreza WRX Sti
1. Wayne Morton / Chanay Rabnott  - 1983 Ford Laser
1. Allan Clunes / Gavin Wieland  -  1993 Mazda GTX

Report supplied.

Photo: Kristan Hayes

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