The fourth and final round of the Australian Tarmac Rally Championship, the Great Tarmac Rally, has been run in spectacular fashion in the Victorian High-Country region.
Covering over 250 kilometres around Marysville, Cambarville, Cumberland Junction, Reefton Spur, Jamieson and Eildon, the rally attracted a high-quality field of over 60 cars.
The Super Rally category has been dominated by the husband and wife pairing of Jason and Fiona Wright, in their R35 Skyline, and the pair would go into the event leading the overall championship. Coming out of the blocks firing, they would take the outright win for stage three, trading blows with the ever-dominant Mick Harding and James Thornburn in their Subaru WRX STi.
However, Harding/Thornburn would bow out two stages later after a small fire brought their run to a halt. Released of the shackles, the Wrights were kept to task by the hard-charging Mark Cates and Bernie Webb in their Porsche 911 GT2 RS. However, disaster struck at lunch on day one when an oil temperature issue forced the Wrights to retire. Cates and Webb took an unsurmountable lead overnight from the only other class entrant of Greg Bass & Lance Arundel in a Toyota Yaris GR, but the drama was far from over.
Cates and Webb had made it clear that their car, and subsequent tire choice was suited to a dry event and as the heavens opened on day two the pair would greet the start, but withdraw after one stage, handing the class victory to the ever-optimistic Bass & Arundel.
Modern 4WD was dominated by the ultra-consistent Matt Close and Cameron Reeves in an Audi TTRS Sport. Despite still developing the car, and having brake overheating issues plague them for the duration, the pair would consistently be top three outright on day one, but taking charge once the weather came, taking the outright stage wins for every run on Sunday, and taking the class win by a staggering five and half minutes over Toby Gill and Alice McKenzie in a Nissan R35 Skyline, and a further three minutes over Barrie Smith and Anthony McLoughlin's Audi TTRS.
Close would take out not only a class win, but with slippery conditions suiting the AWD Audi, the pair took the outright win by over two minutes.
Modern 2WD had all eyes on the pairing of Paul Dowie and John Allen in their Porsche GT3RS after they had been battling with the Wrights for overall championship honours. However, the determined Jeff Morton and Daymon Nicoli made sure their Porsche GT2 RS would make it a battle all the way. Dowie fired the first shot, taking out the first stage, but Morton found his feet and dominated the following stages.
Morton had his eyes on the outright win, however as the rain fell on Sunday his times slipped him back into the grasp of Close. With the downfall of Wright, Dowie went into conservation mode, only needing to finish to claim the overall championship, which saw the husband-and-wife team of Neil and Sue Cuthbert set their sights on him, steering their Lotus Exige 350 Sport to within 1 minute of Dowie, but their run was in vain as Dowie maintained second in class across the line.
Early Modern 4WD was dominated by the hard-charging father and son team of Liam and Larry Howarth in the fire-breathing Nissan GTR V-Spec. Despite coming second in the first stage to Michael Mansey and Anthony Carrs Mitsubishi EVO X, the Howarths settled in and took every subsequent stage, taking the class win with an impressive 6-minute lead over Mansey, and a whopping 14 minutes ahead of Greg and Sam Macdonald in the Subaru WRX STi.
However, the drive of the event would come from Early Modern 2WD, as Dean Lillie and Chris Exner gave the entire field a masterclass on car control in their Mazda RX7. While Exner owns the car, he handed the keys to the vastly experienced Lillie, who held nothing back. In the dry, they were consistent top 5 outright, but as the rain fell and others struggled for grip, Lillie was in his element. The pair reeled in Mortons GT2 RS in the final stages, pulling a 40 second gap despite the technological disadvantages, and went to work chasing Close for the outright win.
While they were unable to catch Close, the final standings saw them a mere 2:30 behind. While all eyes were on the front, husband and wife team Paul and Claire Buccini in a BMW 1m were having their own private battle with the ever-consistent Andrew Bollom and Jon Roberts Mazda RX8SP. The pair would battle it out over the two days, trading positions nearly every stage before Buccini made his run in the wet to take second in class from Bollom by just over two minutes.
Classic Modified was the ultimate David and Goliath battle from the outset. With the likes of Mick Bray and Jarrod Akker aboard the colourful Mick Downeys Group C Commodore, as well as Anthony Genocchio and Matt Carey also lining up in their thundering Group C machines, it would be the lighter nimbler Escort RS2500 of Tom Dermody and Padraig Cronin that dominated, taking the class win by over 2 minutes from Bray, with the exciting to watch Brian O’Neill and Muireann Hayes just missing out on an Escort 1-2, finishing third just 11 seconds shy of Bray.
Classic saw the hard-charging couple Jon and Gina Siddins make their ATR debut in their beloved Datsun 240z, and soon showed why they are consistent tarmac rally place-getters. Taking the class win on most stages, they were pressured by father and son Michael and Lachlan Nordsvan in their Mazda RX7. Despite the younger Nordsvan having little navigating experience, the pair would take the battle all the way to the Siddins but fell short by just over a minute.
Peter Gluskie and Samantha Winter were comfortably in third in their BMW E30 325e, but a catastrophic transmission failure 5kms from the finish of the final stage saw their podium in doubt. However, luck and geography would be on their side, as the run was all downhill and they managed to angel gear it to the finish, with enough of a buffer over 4th to hold onto the podium.
Rally Sport was dominated by Scott Coppleman and Matt Van Rooye in their Subaru WRX STi, taking the class win for every one of the 13 stages. Behind them Laura & Gavin Rogers Lotus Exige was trading blows with the hard charging Justin Waterhouse and Adrian Bryants Evo X, with both teams crossing the line stage after stage within seconds of each other. However, the Rogers pairing held on to take second in class by a remarkable 3 seconds.
Rally Challenge was taken out by Jeremy Dennison and Brett Williams in their BMW M140i, and despite multiple penalties for speeding infringements, they would take out the class by an impressive 11 minutes. Behind them the husband-and-wife Paul and Sharon Poulter and their Evo would hold off the consistent pairing of Rob Oshlack and Neysa Ellison in their immaculate Porsche 991 GT3, with only 1.5 minutes separating the minors.
Early Classic was a one-horse race, with father and son Simon and Ben Kelly in their 1958 Austin Healey showing consistency is the key. The pair went into the event leading the early classic championship, with only Keith Morling in his Escort a threat to the title.
However, Morling was unable to repair the mechanical damage from round three and withdrew, leaving the beautiful Austin to take the win. However, the Kellys made sure they drove the car as it was intended, setting impressive times and even driving the exhaust clean off the car, but as the sole entrant they had time to stop, collect the exhaust and keep going, much to the delight of onlookers.
With this being the final round, the championship was decided, and silverware awarded.
Championship winning driver went to the ever-consistent Paul Dowie who takes the number one from Jason Wright. The pair were even on points after round two, Wright taking a slight lead after round three, but his mechanical DNF at this round all but assured Dowie the title.
Championship winning navigator was awarded to Fiona Wright, as despite Jason not being able to take out the driver’s title, she had competed in all four rounds and accumulated the highest points, whereas Dowie had used multiple navigators throughout the rounds.
The Australian Tarmac Rally 2024 Championship kicks off at the Lake Mountain Sprint, 16-17 March 2024, a change from the opening round at Mt Baw Baw.
Round two, the Snowy River Sprint, will be held 4-5 May, while round three will be the Great Tarmac Rally 7-8 September. This has historically been the last round of the championship, but organisers are mixing it up, having the final round take on the challenging Mt Baw Baw 26-27 October.
Final Round Standings:
Greg Bass / Lance Arundel (940) Toyota GR Yaris
Matt Close / Cameron Reeves (813) Audi TTRS Sport
Toby Gill / Alice McKenzie (832) Nissan GT-R
Barrie Smith / Anthony McLoughlin (857) Audi TTRS
Jeff Morton / Damon Nicoli (712) Porsche GT2 RS
Paul Dowie / John Allen (785) Porsche GT3RS
Neil & Sue Cuthbert (710) Lotus Exige 350 Sport
Early Modern 4WD
Liam & Larry Howarth (547) Nissan Skyline GTR V-Spec
Michael Mansey / Anthony Carr (546) Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X
Greg and Sam McDonald (584) Subaru WRX STi
Early Modern 2WD
Dean Lillie / Chris Exner (507) Mazda RX7
Paul and Claire Buccini (571) BMW 1m
Andrew Bollom / Jon Roberts (577) Mazda RX8SP
Tom Dermody / Padraig Cronin (434) Ford Escort RS2500
Mick Bray / Jarrod Akker (488) Holden Group C Commodore
Brian O’Neill / Muireann Hayes (426) Ford Escort MK2
Jon & Gina Siddins (364) Datsun 240z
Michael & Lachlan Nordsvan (384) Mazda RX7
Peter Gluskie /Samantha Winter (355) BMW e30 325e
Scott Coppleman / Matt Van Rooye (114) Subaru WRX STi
Laura and Gavin Rogers (151) Lotus Exige
Justin Waterhouse / Adrian Bryant (180) Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X
Simon & Ben Kelly 1958 Austin Healy (337)
Jeremy Dennison/Brett Williams (111) BMW m140i
Paul & Sharon Poulter (189) Mitsubishi Evo
Rob Oshlack/Neysa Ellison (183) Porsche 991 GT3