ARC Rally season underway with five West Australians in mix
On Saturday, a field of 50 including three cars with West Australian competitors, will be raring to go in the season opener of the CAMS Australian Rally Championship (ARC), The Courier-Eureka Rally in Ballarat, Victoria.
The Eureka Rally has eight stages that will be run twice consisting of six forest stages and two shire road stages.
Competitors will race the clock over a total of 108 kilometres of competitive stages and traverse a total distance of 630 kilometres. Four stages are the same as 2017, three retain elements from last year and there’s one new, very interesting stage reminiscent of the great British rally stages of the 1970s.
The cars will switch between dirt tracks and bitumen, pass by an ancient railway bridge, through some farm gates, blast along an avenue of pines, around old bluestone farm outhouses, over a dam wall, and through a geological feature called Devil’s Kitchen.
Three-time Australian Rally Champion Eli Evans has a new co-driver this season, WA’s Ben Searcy of East Vic Park in a Mini Cooper AP4, both hoping to improve on Evans’ result of third in last year’s championship.
Searcy, 39, said he completed a successful pace-note rally with Evans last year.
“Eli’s driving style is very neat, smooth, precise and he pays a lot of attention to the detail in pace notes,” Searcy said.
“The Mini is a great car, built by Evans Motorsport and to the new AP4 regulations, which is the future of rallying in the Asia Pacific region.
“I’m itching to get going and excited about the Eureka Rally. It’s the second time we’ve been to Ballarat. With the changes made to the stages, I’m looking forward to be competing on roads that other competitors don’t know like the back of their hand, it always makes a rally a bit more exciting.”
Perth-based Maximum Motorsport has two cars entered in the ARC this season, both Subaru Impreza WRX Sti hatchbacks. Furthermore, Dean Herridge will play a dual role of running the team and interviewing competitors are the start line before waving them off.
Brad Markovic with co-driver Toni Feaver is making a return after seven months after recovering from back surgery.
“I’m feeling good and my back is feeling strong – I just can’t tell you how excited I am to get going,” said 40-year-old Markovic of Lesmurdie.
“Last year at Eureka we were sitting in fifth outright but then had an engine drama and ended up finishing tenth. So I feel like there’s unfinished business there.
“The car has been completely overhauled and freshened up – Maximum Motorsport have done a great job with it, we’ve got a great package.
“It’s also great that John O’Dowd will be running a hatch this year too. And of course having Deano’s friendly face at the start line should be fun, he always takes the mickey!”
John O’Dowd and regular co-driver Ken Shiel won the ARC2 title last year, a new category designed to aid the transition into competing in a full ARC.
O’Dowd said that last year he found the Ballarat stages completely different to those in WA, very fast and flowing but really enjoyable.
“I’m really looking forward to starting the season. Our goal is to give this car a good run and finish the event,” said Gooseberry Hill resident O’Dowd.
“We’re in the Maximum Motorsport Subaru hatch this year; we did some testing in it two weeks ago and I’m very happy with the car, they’ve prepared us a good car.”
As well competing in the ARC, O’Dowd and Shiel will again contest the WA Rally Championship, trying to get one better on their second place last year, pipped of the title by just two points.
“Last year was really enjoyable in the WARC. We had a great time battling guys like Tom Wilde and Steve Oxley throughout the year,” O’Dowd said.
The Courier Eureka Rally starts on Saturday 3 March, and the Onslow Contracting WA Rally Championship opens with the Trade Hire Karri Rally on March 24.
The Courier-Eureka Rally will conclude at the Ballarat Airport Rally Hub approximately around 3pm on Sunday with the winners taking to the podium from 4:30pm.