Demonstrating the popularity of Wellington Dam’s forest roads, the 2012 Expert Cup Rally had a good course. 35 teams from the State Rally Championship (WARC) and 9 Clubman Rally Series (Clubman Cup) traveled to Collie in the southwestern states for the third round of the respective championships. The Experts Cup was again a fast paced 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 organizers had a lot of work ahead of them. Logging operations in the forest, along with some severe storms in the area, had made some of the marked staging roads literally impassable. Organizers and volunteers had to quickly clear fallen trees and other debris to allow the route to be ready for the start of reconnaissance on Saturday morning.
The rally started as planned in mid-afternoon in dry weather. Leading the field was Lee McIlroy / Ash Ridden in his Spec C WRX. Be the first because on the road it is usually a disadvantage. The first pair of cars acts as a road sweeper, removing the loose top layer from the surface for the cars that follow and also providing guidance for braking and corner lines. In this case, McIlroy / Ridden drove well on the first couple of stages despite the position on the road, setting stage times in the top 3.
In SS2, Gavin Morgan / Chris Parish were the first to suffer on the slippery clay-based surface. The pair were out of the top 3 on stage one and were doing well in their Spec C WRX when an altercation with the stage damaged the Subaru too much to continue. The retirement continued a streak of bad luck for the team that had just cured an electric pixie that had forced it to retire in two previous rallies.
SS2 also caused pain for brothers Mark and Steve Davies. The boys lost 3rd gear on stage two before their WRX transmission got stuck in 2nd gear on TC3 and forced them to withdraw early. The duo were understandably dejected after strong results at 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.
When the teams returned for the first service, it was evident that the loose conditions were already showing scars on some cars. Even seasoned competitors had struggled for grip in places. McIlroy / Ridden were going to find out how loose the roads were on SS3. In a wide corner to the left, the pair slid slightly into a row and the car got stuck on a small stump. Despite great effort, the car could not be recovered and they both knew their rally was over. Anthony Chudleigh / Matthew Hare (Hyundai Excel) found the scene in SS3, retiring with damaged front suspension and Lea Welch / Justin Smith retiring in SS4 with a gearbox problem in their Ford Falcon V8.
Although the weather had been dry all day, it was not hot. As the day progressed into the late afternoon and early evening, the temperature dropped rapidly. The weather definitely favored turbocharged cars and tire wear was not a major issue either.
SS6 would make the V8 Ford / Holden battle end with nothing. 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 removal. SS6 also saw the retirement of Rainer Offermann / Tim Lennon. The team had a brush with the stage on SS5 and on SS6 the lights of their WRX were not up to the challenge of the night stages that forced them to retire.
The rally had been eventful for many competitors, some of whom had thrown everything in the event to simply finish. Carlos Deltoro / Darren Wiese had front suspension dramas for most of the rally that kept their service team entertained and Julian Wright / Niall Doherty appeared to be struggling in their Datsun 1200. Returning after a long break from racing, Duncan Leighton with Marc Louden achieved some impressive mid-ship panel damage in his Ford MK1, and John Farrell / Chris Randell also found the stage in his WRX.
In the Experts Cup a new timing system was tested in parallel to the traditional system. Using transponders installed in each car, a series of receivers throughout the stages and in the service park allowed for faster compilation of stage times. The top ten exhausted from the battle were at.
John Clinton / Shaun Brennan brought their Lancer Evo 9 to 10th behind Dylan King / Andrew Hannigan (Ford) in 9th. A big battle with King / Hannigan resulted in Blair Pugh / Paul Helm taking the first 2WD and the eighth in their Ford. Steve Oxley / Michael Wood took their Impreza STI in current form to seventh place behind Garry Whittle / Ryan Doe (WRX) in sixth place. Before the rally started, Whittle / Doe weren’t sure they could start the event with a suspicious refrigerant leak. Fortunately, their service team fixed the problem, allowing the pair to compete and finish in the top 10. John O’Dowd / Ben Searcy (Spec C WRX) put in another steady push to take fifth place and increase their points in WARC. Alex Stone / Hanna Drury (WRX) led most of the rally. On TC7 a faulty turbo intervened and the pair fell from 1st to 4th place. The finale allowed enough points to hold a WARC lead. Third place went to Doug Tostevin and Tammy Adams on their WRX. The pair had been consistent within the top 6 stage times throughout the day and were the only team to win an Experts Cup trophy for 2012. Travis White / Greg Flood had their own problems to overcome during the rally. The pair had everything in order on the final stage, setting the fastest time and taking their PWRC Lancer Evo 9 specification to second place. The gap between 2nd and 3rd place was very narrow in just 6 seconds. Leigh Hynes / Stuart Percival used their “charge hard early” strategy to try to gain an advantage. A spin in SS2 and a busy day for the service team showed that their pace in the conditions was at the limit. With Stone / Drury out of the fight in the final couple of stages, Hynes / Percival was able to slow down enough to allow a straight run to the finish and the first place trophy.