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2008 was arguably the most controversial and tumultuous year of rallying Western Australia has seen in recent memory. There has been much unrest on both sides of the camp from competitors and organisers, and many of the issues had still not been resolved after the last rally of the year was run. Many would be quick to point out that rallies and championships are not decided from the rule book, yet 2008 somewhat disproved the theory at all levels of the sport.

The year started out well enough with WA’s Australian Rally Championship (ARC) round, the Forest Rally. Hot on the heels of the Forest should have been the Lewana Stages Rally. With just weeks to the rally, the organisers cancelled the event, which would have dropped the championship to four rounds. In record time, an alternative event was cobbled together, given the name of the Blackwood Rally, and things were seemingly back on track. The third round of the WA State Rally Championship (WARC) was held in Collie mid-year before a long break of some two months to Round 4, the Donnelly River Rally. The last round of the championship brought teams the closest to Perth that they had been all year. The Safari Rally in Mundaring was a rough event and ended with a nail biting decider to this year’s WARC crown.

Forest Rally

The Forest Rally is in effect two separate rallies as far as competitors are concerned. The event is broken into two heats over two days and both heats have points awarded towards the WARC. If a team retires from one heat or the other, points for the heat they complete are still awarded which helped several WARC teams in the season opener.

Starting on the Friday night in a carnival atmosphere, the all tarmac super special stage on the foreshore of Busselton gave teams a quick warm up of things to come. The first two stages were over all too quickly and competitors had to get themselves to bed after all the hype and preparation to be rested for the gravel stages the next day.

An early Saturday morning start saw crews line up in Busselton. It would be in these nearby forests that the fates and fortunes of WA teams would change during the remaining eight special stages of heat 1.

Most made a good start and up front six or so crews were all setting fast stage times. The roads were however, catching some competitors out, despite the use of pace notes. Lee McIlroy/Steve Vass were doing well until a problem with the notes landed their WRX on its roof in SS4. Leigh Hynes/Stuart Percival (WRX) were running away with the day until SS8. The pair put the car off the road when they were running as high as third outright in the ARC division.

Butcher/Nicholas went about the job steadily and brought their WRX home in 10th place, ninth were Anthony List/Richard Harris in their new WRX, two minutes behind brothers Wes & Ash Ridden (WRX) in eighth. Adrian Broom/Brendan Carr drove well to be seventh, despite 20 seconds worth of penalties. Mike Civil/Karin Tatnell finished strongly in their Lancer Evo 6,  whilst Dave Thomas/Lee Tierney took on the 4WD cars with a sensational fifth place in their Ford Escort MKII. 

Despite some earlier electrical dramas, brother and sister, Tom & Nerralie Wilde, brought their Mazda 323 GTX to the line in fourth, missing the podium by just one and a half minutes. Third went to former works Ford ARC competitors, Darren Windus/Jon Mortimer using a WRX for the Forest Rally. Second place went to Toby Heyring/Peter Turner in their Spec C WRX, just behind the pairing of Alex Stone/Dianna Madlener in their immaculately prepared WRX.

Heat 2 of the Forest rally started back on the Busselton foreshore for two runs around the tarmac super special stage following the same format as heat 1. By Sunday morning some competitors who had retired from Heat 1 were back in Heat 2 and battle ready once again. Some of the previous day’s stages still had a nasty bite and a few competitors fell victim during heat 2. These included John Macara/Greg Flood (Evo 5) and McIlroy/Vass who had already retired from heat 1. By mid afternoon the clouds of controversy were rolling in. Officials claimed to have found an alleged irregularity during Heat 1 and moved to exclude Geoff Leatt-Hayter/John White in their Ford Escort from the Heat 1 results, even though the rally was now well through Heat 2.

Back to the competition and the crews at the head of the leader board were pulling no punches, swapping stage wins as the well-swept roads became faster. Windus/Mortimer were forced to drop two stages early on Sunday and re-entered Heat 2 on the third Forest stage, however that did not stop them trying to make up time, also taking some stage wins. Wilde/Wilde seemed to be having a good run on Sunday until a problem on the penultimate stage of the day lost them 30+ minutes to the leaders, and almost dropped them out of the heat.

The war stories were starting to filter through as the cars (some on trailers) and teams headed back to service and the finish ramp. In 10th for heat two was the always spectacular pair of Julian Wright/Jeff Huggins in their Datsun 1200 coupe. With the smallest engine in the whole field, the giant slaying driving display was brilliant. Thomas/Tierney went over the ramp in 9th, taking their second top ten for the weekend behind Butcher/Nicholas in 8th. Leatt-Hayter/White may have been excluded from Heat 1, however the pair had driven hard in Heat 2 and made 7th for the day. Graeme Miles/Tara Gulvin had troubles in Heat 1 however Heat 2 provided them with a solid result in 6th place. Ridden/Ridden were 5th behind Civil/Tatnell who were 4th, improving on their placing from the day before. Hynes/Percival kept their car on the road and took a heat 2 podium spot in 3rd with Heyring/Turner 2nd and Stone/Madlener taking their second heat win of the weekend.

Blackwood Rally

The Lewana Stages Rally was actually calendared as the next 2008 event after the Forest Rally. Just a few weeks before the event the organisers pulled the plug, citing logistical problems and the need for some key officials. In an effort not to lose a round of the WARC, officials and organisers of other car clubs hastily jumped in to formulate a replacement event. As rallies normally take 12 months of planning, a rally staged in a matter of weeks would have to be compact in every sense of the word.

The Blackwood Rally became a joint car club venture, with a single 26km special stage run three times to give just over 75 competitive kilometres. The event was also run on a road book provided by the organisers in lieu of pace notes that competitors have become accustomed to.

Teams headed to the town of Balingup and through to the tree plantations of Lewana, to be greeted by fine weather. Some were concerned that the roads would not hold up to repeat stages, however a combination of rain leading up to the rally, and fine weather on the day dispelled any doubts. Leigh Hines/Stuart Percival (WRX) led the field away and would act as road sweeper on the first pass, gaining second fastest. It was Alex Stone, paired with Toni Feaver (WRX) for this event, who would take the stage win with Toby Heyring/Peter Turner third in their Spec C WRX. Heyring/Turner were out of their comfort zone at the start of the rally with not much experience in road booked or blind rallies, however by day’s end the pair were much happier.

To keep the rally moving, some officials had to work very hard. Broken down or damaged rally cars that had retired in the stages had to be quickly recovered to keep the roads clear for repeat stages. In SS1 Adrian Broom/Brendon Carr (WRX) suffered a blown engine and John Macara/Greg Flood (Evo 5) had electrical dramas. In SS2 Wes & Ash Ridden hit a tree and wrote off their WRX (both had only minor injuries), Mike Civil/Karin Tatnell (Evo 6) blew a turbo hose and Anthony List/Richard Harris (Galant VR4) had fuel problems.

Just as the rally was about to end, more controversy surfaced. This time, leading competitor Alex Stone was excluded for an alleged technical irregularity with his WRX. This incident, coupled with other issues associated with the Blackwood, was brewing up quite a storm.

Despite the conjecture on several levels over the rule books, the top ten were in. Jeff Thomas/Madeline Kirkhouse finished 10th in their TTE-liveried Celica GT4. Mike Healey/Alex Bertrand (Galant VR4) were 9th and Leo Iriks/Paul Helm made 8th in their Ford Escort. Julian Wright/Jeff Huggins (Datsun 1200) took another top ten finish in 7th, behind Graeme Miles/Tara Gulvin in 6th. Brother and sister, Tom & Nerralie Wilde, made 5th and the hard-charging pair of Dave Thomas/Lee Tierney were first 2WD car home in 4th outright in their Ford Escort. After a long break away from rallying, Steve Oxley returned with Aaron Foster alongside, to take third place in their WRX, and Hines/Percival took second place. In first place, Heyring/Turner inherited the win.

The storms would rage on long after the Blackwood Rally had been run.

Experts Cup

The WARC next moved on to the coal mining town of Collie in June. For the last couple of years, the Experts Cup has changed to a unique format where pace noting is conducted in the morning and the rally is run in the afternoon and evening of the same day.

Whilst roads in the morning were a little damp with intermittent showers, the afternoon saw less rain and a light breeze dry the roads quickly. The Experts Cup was also the first real taste of rallying in the dark for 2008, too.

This time it was Toby Heyring/Peter Turner’s turn to be car 1 and their position was not ideal. With second place championship points from the Forest and a win on the Blackwood, the pair now led the WARC. With another high placing, this may have been the leg up the guys were looking for on their quest for their first WARC title.

Eight special stages would decide the Experts Cup and Leigh Hines/Stuart Percival (WRX) were to take wins on five of them. Alex Stone/Dianna Madlener were not going to be outdone that easily and charged back in the last few stages taking a couple of stage wins themselves, with husband and wife Dennis and Jacquie Dunlop winning the last stage of the night in their Lancer Evo 7.

John Macara/Greg Flood struggled to catch a break and again fell victim to another retirement. This time they put their Evo 5 off the road in the last stage whilst running in fourth place.

Amongst the 2WD contenders on the Experts, Dave Thomas/Lee Tierney (Ford Escort), Leo Iriks/Paul Helm (Ford Escort) and Jack Flanagan/David Abetz (Nissan Sunny), were engaged in battle. With Julian Wright/Jeff Huggins retiring in SS5 and Geoff Leatt-Hayter/John White not starting the rally, those in the hunt had a chance to score maximum 2WD points.

In 10th place for the rally was Graeme Miles/Tara Gulvin (WRX), 9th Thomas/Tierney, 8th Steve Oxley/Aaron Foster (WRX) and 7th Tom and Nerralie Wilde (Mazda 323 GTX). Adrian Broom/Brendon Carr finished 6th with a new engine in their WRX, behind Gavin Morgan and Chris Parish in their Lancer Evo 3. It had been some time since Morgan/Parish had competed and, despite some cosmetic damage, the pair had bagged a good result with 5th place.

Heyring/Turner finished fourth, gaining more valuable points, however reduced their advantage. Dunlop/Dunlop finished strongly in third with Stone/Madlener 21 seconds ahead in second place. Hynes/Percival won the rally by 40 seconds and suddenly the WARC was a three way fight.

Donnelly River

Round 4 of the WARC saw competitors descend on the holiday village of Donnelly River, near Bridgetown, in mid September. Nearly three months had passed since the last rally and for those who needed to recharge themselves or rebuild cars, it was a welcome break.

Using the same pace note/racing format as the Experts Cup, the Donnelly roads are well known for their high speeds.

Just as in the Experts, Toby Heyring/Peter Turner had drawn car one again and as with the other rallies so far, it was turning into a battle amongst the top three championship contenders. Shane Eather/David Burton returned to the WARC after a year long break in their WRX and were quickly on the pace, too. The pair were setting top three stage times and mixing it with Alex Stone/Dianna Madlener, Leigh Hines/Stuart Percival and Heyring/Turner.
Unfortunately, Eather/Burton were to suffer a flat tyre early in the rally and then an altercation with a few trees later in the day, saw a retirement after a promising start. A flat tyre also delayed Stone/Madlener on the sixth stage and saw them engaged in another hard charge to recover lost time. In the race for points, those at the top were pushing hard. Heyring/Turner pushed a little too hard and went over the limit and off the road into the trees.

As the penultimate rally in the WARC ended, the top ten was interesting .

In tenth place were Julian Wright/Jeff Huggins (Datsun 1200). Brother and sister, Tom & Nerralie Wilde, had a slow start and then picked up their pace to bring their Mazda 323 GTX to 9th place. Dave Thomas/ Lee Tierney took 2WD and class honours on their way to a brilliant 8th place, just behind Steve Oxley/Aaron Foster (WRX) in 7th. Adrian Broom/Brendon Carr drove well in their WRX, managing a top five stage time during the day and finished 6th outright.

Derek Reddie/Karel Foster quietly went about their business during the day, producing a quick drive and 5th in their Mitsubishi Galant VR4. With only some minor panel damage and a missing tail light, Gavin Morgan/Chris Parish finished 4th behind Macara/Flood in third. For the duo, it was a case of exorcised demons, bringing the car to the finish line and in a podium place after several retirements during the last two seasons.

The late charge from Stone/Madlener had closed the gap considerably on the lead. The pair finished the Donnelly Rally in second, just 16 seconds adrift from Hines/Percival, who took their second Donnelly Rally win in two years.
Behind the actual competition, the controversy raged on. Unfortunately, because of the actions of some competitors, several key officials announced their retirement from rallying. It was not a high note on which to end the rally.

The WARC points were now extremely close. It was going to come down to mathematics to work this one out and the last rally of the season would be the decider.

Safari Rally

The closest rally to Perth was set around the forests of Mundaring Weir, in the hills east of the city. The rally was fully pace noted and included six daylight and two night stages. With some dry weather leading up to the event in mid October, the roads were dusty and many expected vision to be a problem when it got dark. A lot was at stake within the WARC and unfortunately Toby Heyring and Peter Turner could not start the last rally of the year. Their car required too much work after the Donnelly crash for the short time available and the pair had to bow out. It was a real shame, however the title race was still on between Stone/Madlener and Percival/Hines.

This time door plate number 1 was balloted to Shane Eather/David Burton. The pair had managed to repair their WRX from Donnelly and led the field away from the mid afternoon start. Soon enough, competitors found the rough patches in the stages with several copping flat tyres. John Macara/Greg Flood were the first to suffer, dropping ten minutes in the very first stage of the day. Leo Iriks/Paul Helm also dropped some five minutes in SS1 to a flat tyre.

Gavin Morgan/Chris Parish ended their rally on SS1 when a broken suspension component halted their Lancer Evo 3 in the stage. The first four teams were swapping stage times back and forth and, by the start of the start of SS6, Eather/Burton were holding a slender lead of just a handful of seconds.

With a little over 1km to the end of the last daylight stage, it all came undone for the leading pair. A momentary lapse in concentration saw the blue WRX off the road and into the trees. It was a heart breaking disappointment. Dave Thomas/Lee Tierney, who had led the 2WD championship all year, also retired after SS4 where they’d dropped ten minutes or so with problems.

The last two stages in the dark were dusty. The slight breeze had dropped and a touch of dampness in the air amplified the reduced visibility. Leigh Hines/Stuart Percival were to fall foul of tyre problems in SS7 and lost ten minutes in the stage. It was now imperative that they finished the rally and hold a high enough place to secure the points they needed. The last stage was going to be a tricky business. The pair would have to push just hard enough without going over the limit or gain another flat tyre when they didn’t have another spare. 

Another pair vying for their individual class championship ran into dramas on SS7. Jeff Thomas/Anthony Paynter had been going quite well in their Celica GT4. The pair had only to finish the rally and the P6 title would be theirs. In SS7, a complete rim failure and subsequent flat tyre, dropped them some 24 minutes to the fastest cars. The task had been reduced to simply getting the car to the finish.

Steve Oxley and Mike Rowston (WRX) had the biggest dramas on the last stage. The pair put the car off the road whilst looking at a top five finish and lost so much time recovering it, they were nearly excluded.
Just 13 cars finished the state section of this year’s Safari  - of those, almost all had some sort of problem during rally.

Iriks/Helm finished 10th, Alex and Lisa White finished 9th in their Daihatsu Charade, behind Peter Spight/Graham Harper (Hyundai Lantra) in 8th. Geoff Leatt-Hayter/Tamara Adams had a colourful event. Every time the car returned to service, the crew had yet more challenges to overcome. The Escort had all manner of mechanical dramas on the Safari, from completely losing a rear damper and an air filter, to a broken engine mount. None were more surprised to have made 7th place than the team!

Mike Civil, this time co-driven by Frank Zanotti (Evo 6), were sixth, and Craig Wimbridge/Doug Tostevin brought their Subaru Legacy RS to a tidy fifth. Hines/Percival only just held a spot in the top five after their SS7 troubles to be fourth behind Graeme Miles/Tara Gulvin, who quietly and neatly snuck into third.

Macara/Flood pulled out all stops after their SS1 tyre dramas and luck came their way. With so many others having problems, the duo had brought their Lancer to second place, nearly nine minutes adrift from the winners. Having done everything they could, Alex Stone/Dianna Madlener had won the Safari.

WARC points

With Toby Heyring/Peter Turner dropping out of WARC title contention, it came down to a two horse race and it was close. In rallying anything can, and does, happen, and both in the hunt had to ensure they finished the last rally, and in a sufficiently high enough placing, to gain the deciding points. In the end Leigh Hines/Stuart Percival pipped Alex Stone and Dianna Madlener at the post for the outright title.

Despite two DNF’s Heyring/Turner held on to third with a comfortable buffer to Graeme Miles/Tara Gulvin in fourth.
 
Within the class awards, Heyring/Turner did take a consolation prize winning the show room Group N4 class for the year from Adrian Broom/Brendon Carr (WRX).
The Production Rally Car classes are divided up by engine capacity and 2WD/4WD transmission system. Julian Wright/Jeff Huggins easily won the P1 (under 1300cc) class in their Datsun, being the only car in the class all year. P2 (1301cc-1600cc) went to husband and wife team, Alex and Lisa White, in their Daihatsu Charade, in front of Josh and Katie Hogan in a Ford Laser. P3 (1601-2000cc) was the largest 2WD class and was heavily fought all year. Teams using the evergreen Ford Escort MK II’s held the top three places. Dave Thomas/Lee Tierney won the class, however only just. Leo Iriks/Paul Helm came second, just one point behind the leading pair. Geoff Leatt-Hayter was third driver and Graham Harper (Hyundai Lantra) was third navigator.

There were no cars contesting the P4 class this year and the P5 results (4WD 2000cc+) read very similar to the outright results.

The P6 class was created for pre-1992 4WD turbo cars. This year, Jeff Thomas (Toyota Celica GT4) edged out Tom Wilde (Mazda 323 GTX) for class honours, with Mike Healey (Galant VR4) third. Amongst the navigators, Nerralie Wilde was first, Alex Bertand was second and Anthony Paynter was third.

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