Proving the popularity of the Wellington Dam forest roads, the 2012 Experts Cup Rally had a good field. 35 State Rally Championship (WARC) and 9 Clubman Rally Series (Clubman Cup) teams made the trip to Collie in the states southwest for round 3 of the respective championships. The Experts Cup was again a fully pace noted rally and used 4 special stages that were repeated for a total competitive distance of just over 115km.
Long before car 1 lined up at the first time control, the organisers had their work cut out for them. Logging operations in the forest coupled with some severe storms in the area had made some of the roads marked for stages, literally impassable. Fallen trees and other debris had to be hastily cleared by the organisers and volunteers to allow the route to be rally ready for the Saturday morning start of recce.
The rally started as scheduled in mid afternoon with dry weather. Leading the field away was Lee McIlroy/Ash Ridden in their Spec C WRX. Being first car on the road is usually a disadvantage. The first couple of cars act as road sweeper removing the loose top layer from the surface for following cars and also providing a guide to braking and lines through corners. In this case McIlroy/Ridden drove well on the first couple of stages despite the road position, setting stages times in the top 3.
In SS2 Gavin Morgan/Chris Parish were first to come to grief on the slippery clay based surface. The pair were just outside of the top 3 on the first stage and were running well in their Spec C WRX when an altercation with the scenery damaged the Subaru too heavily to continue. The retirement continued a run of bad luck for the team who had just cured an electrical gremlin that had forced retirement on two previous rallies.
SS2 also caused grief for brothers Mark and Steve Davies. The guys lost 3rd gear on the second stage before their WRX transmission jammed in 2nd gear on SS3 and forced an early retirement. The duo were understandably dejected after strong finishes on the Forest and Donnelly rallies earlier this year. Brett Tolomei and Owain Thomas also retired in SS2 when their Mazda 323 Familia succumbed to mechanical problems.
As teams returned for the first service it was apparent that the loose conditions were showing scars on some cars already. Even seasoned competitors had struggled for grip in some places. McIlroy/Ridden were to find out just how loose the roads were in SS3. On a sweeping left hand corner, the pair slid slightly wide onto a windrow and got the car stuck on a small stump. Despite a huge effort, the car could not be recovered and the pair knew their rally was over. Anthony Chudleigh/Matthew Hare (Hyundai Excel) found the scenery in SS3, retiring with damaged front suspension and Lea Welch/Justin Smith retired in SS4 with a gearbox problem in their V8 Ford Falcon.
Whilst the weather had been dry all day it was not warm. As the day progressed into late afternoon and early evening the temperature dropped quickly. The weather definitely favoured turbo charged cars and tyre wear was not a major problem either.
SS6 would see the V8 Ford/Holden battle end with nil all. Kiel Douglas/Anthony Paynter (Holden Commodore) found the same spot on the same corner that McIlroy/Ridden had found earlier. This time however, the orange Commodore would go straight off the road and find the stump, causing some suspension damage and retirement. SS6 also saw the retirement of Rainer Offermann/Tim Lennon. The team had a brush with the scenery in SS5 and in SS6 the lights on their WRX were not up to the challenge of night stages forcing a withdrawal.
The rally had been eventful for many competitors, some who had thrown everything at the event to simply finish. Carlos Deltoro/Darren Wiese had front suspension dramas for most of the rally that kept their service crew amused and Julian Wright/Niall Doherty seemed to struggle in their Datsun 1200. Returning after a long break from competition Duncan Leighton with Marc Louden alongside managed some impressive panel damage amidships on their MK1 Ford, and John Farrell/Chris Randell also found the scenery in their WRX.
On the Experts cup a new timing arrangement was trialled in parallel to the traditional system. Using transponders fitted in each car, a series of receivers along the stages and at the service park allowed for a faster collection of stage times. The battle weary top ten were in.
John Clinton/Shaun Brennan brought their Lancer Evo 9 to 10th place behind Dylan King/Andrew Hannigan (Ford) in 9th. A huge battle with King/Hannigan resulted in Blair Pugh/Paul Helm taking 1st 2WD and 8th outright in their Ford. Steve Oxley/Michael Wood brought their current shape Impreza STI to 7th place behind Garry Whittle/Ryan Doe (WRX) in 6th. Before the rally began Whittle/Doe were not sure they could start the event with a suspicious coolant leak. Luckily their service crew sorted the problem allowing the pair to compete and take a top 10 finish. John O’Dowd/Ben Searcy (Spec C WRX) put in another consistent drive to take 5th place and increase their points haul in the WARC. Alex Stone/Hanna Drury (WRX) led for most of the rally. In SS7 a failing turbo intervened and dropped the pair from 1st place to 4th. The finish did allow enough points to maintain a lead in the WARC. 3rd place went to Doug Tostevin and Tammy Adams in their WRX. The pair had been consistent within the top 6 stage times all day and were the only crew to gain an Experts Cup trophy for 2012. Travis White/Greg Flood had their own issues to overcome during the rally. The pair had everything sorted on the last stage, setting the fastest time and taking their PWRC spec Lancer Evo 9 to 2nd outright. The gap between 2nd and 3rd place was very tight at just 6 seconds. Leigh Hynes/Stuart Percival employed their “charge hard early” strategy to attempt to gain an upper hand. A spin on SS2 and a busy day for the service crew showed their pace under the conditions was on the limit. With Stone/Drury out of the fight on the last couple of stages, Hynes/Percival could ease the pace just enough to allow a straight forward run to the finish and the 1st place trophy.
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