Australian Chris Atkinson has won the International Rally of Queensland, Round 3 of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship held in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast hinterland from 25-27 May. In a stunning drive behind the wheel of his Team MRF Skoda Fabia S2000, Atkinson and Belgian co-driver Stephane Prevot finished some 3 minutes and 57 seconds ahead of their nearest rival Alistar McRae. In the process Atkinson took out the Pacific Cup, and extended his lead in the overall Asia Pacific Championship.
McRae and co-driver Bill Hayes drove a fine event in their Proton Satria Neo S2000. Whilst they simply couldn’t match the pace of Atkinson, McRae never put a foot wrong throughout the three day event and drove around a misfiring problem to hold on to second place.
Fourth place was taken by the man with the coolest name in rallying, Per-Gunnar Andersson, also behind the wheel of a Satria Neo S2000. P.G and co-driver Emil Axelsson chased hard all weekend, finishing less than a minute behind the Evo of Green.
Indian driver Gaurav Gill, with Australian co-driver Glen Macneall, learnt the hard way why experience with a rally car is always important. The Fabia S2000 is new to the MRF team, and was unfortunately sidelined on Saturday with electrical problems which turned out to be a minor and easily solved wiring issue.
Even though at least half of the 13 cars entered in the APRC were from Australia, it still gave a chance to see some interesting rally cars that don’t usually grace our shores, such as the Citroen DS3 R3.
Tony Sullens and Julia Barkley pushed their GC8 WRX hard to finish 3rd outright in ARC 4WD. I can’t remember the last time a GC8 was on the podium of a national championship – maybe this is some kind of record?
… the S14 of Alan Roe and Ray Farrell. I’ve gotta give them points for pushing hard throughout the entire event. Every time I saw them they were either sideways or airborne. They even tried to take me out when they hit a jump a little too quickly…
Mark Pedder and Claire Ryan had some bad luck with fuel system issues on the transport to the first stage on Saturday morning. It put them out for the day, and whilst they returned on Sunday they weren’t challenging for the win.
There was a really good field of Classics out, won by Neal Bates in his awesome Toyota Team Europe Celica replica.
I usually try to stay away from negativity on Any Given Reason, but on this occasion I feel it needs to be said – cricketer Michael Clarke absolutely sucks as a rally driver. In some stupid PR stunt, the rally organisers put Clarke behind the wheel of a full house, lagged up Evo 6 and let him loose on a few stages. Now obviously nobody was expecting him to set the world on fire but he wasn’t even getting it moving around on the gravel, he was just taking a slow tarmac line. It was embarrassing, and they should have just given it to one of the junior guys instead. Rant over.
But on a more positive note, the Sunshine Coast hinterland is a stunningly beautiful place to hold a rally. The roads are fun to navigate and the bushland is easy to trek through. Everything is a lush, vibrant green.
And I can honestly say I’ve never been to a rally before where everyone is so universally lovely and friendly. None of the officials were on power trips, they just wanted to make sure you got the best view of the action as safely possible. They offered friendly tips and advice, and one group of officials simply wouldn’t let me set off on a trek down the road to find a jump without first loading me up with water and apples.
And the community support is a far cry from what we get in Adelaide – up there the community loves the event – just look at those road closure times! Every single local I met, even the ones who had never seen rally before, were totally in to it. I walked 3km down one rally road, and I kid you not – the driveway of every single property was filled with people crowding around fires, drinking beers, cooking bbq’s and watching the action. Some residents were even doing rally crawls – a beer at every neighbours property along their stretch of the course.
I went up there primarily to take photos, but also to be a reserve service crew member for Guy Tyler and Damian Reed in the Clio. Sadly GT and Damo had a tough event – after their gearbox troubles at Wattle Range, they rebuilt a new dog box with a fancy crown wheel and pinion to prevent further trouble. As it turned out the pinion was missing an oil gallery, which caused the box to weld itself together after just 2km of testing the day before they were due to leave. They did another mad all-night rebuild, only to suffer more gearbox issues in Queensland.
I booked a Corolla rental car for the obviously winning combination of rental car, dirt roads, manual transmission and a handbrake. Maybe they realised the rally was on and saw me coming (TRD jacket gave the game away), because they upgraded me to a Hybrid Camry. Not quite what I had planned, but it actually surprised us. I dubbed it the ‘bimotore’, because the electric engine actually gave a noticeable, torquey boost when driving in the twisty, hilly roads. It still used 30+ L/100km when driving though…
It was in fact behind the wheel of the Bimotore, Busby and Damo on board, completely lost at night somewhere between Imbil and Caloundra, when we found the driving Nirvana known as the George Wyer Scenic Drive. What you’ll notice here is that Obi Obi road (coming from left) splits into two roads at George Wyer. Each road is one direction only. George Wyer is about 1.5 lanes wide, armco on one side and rock face on the other. It’s a beautifully cambered, twisting stretch of road that winds its way past a mountain. It’s wide enough to take a proper line, and you know there’s no oncoming cars because it’s one way. Obi Obi is very similar, except it’s gravel. Yes, you read correctly. A one way, twisting, wide, tarmac/gravel circuit in the middle of nowhere. Nirvana?
Normally the TV cameramen at these events can be, well, pricks. I was expecting the same from the international broadcaster, but the guys from APRC.tv proved me completely wrong. Even though I had no media creds, I had the pleasure of speaking to 3 of their cameramen and they were all interested in what I was doing and gave tips about where the good spots were.
They were a little more game to stand in dodgy spots than I was, though. What you can’t see here is the 15 metre sheer drop off the bridge into the gully below. It was even scary just walking across this bridge, looking down between the sleepers.
These guys stopped just before the splash with cooling system problems. Amazingly, of all the corners on the rally, their service crew just happened to be spectating right where they stopped! GT’s crew helped them to change a belt later on as well, although I don’t think they ever got the beer they were promised in return.
The spectrum of weather was surprising too. One moment it was freezing cold, beanies and frost…
And just the next day it was hot and dusty. It’s funny the people you meet out on the stage – Raz and I travelled together for a while checking out some of the stages, and as it turns out he was last years ARC 2WD champion and finished 2nd in the 2WD WRC class at Coff’s last year!
The IROQ after party is well known for being a good night out, although I needed to be up at 340am the next day to make my flight back to Adelaide so I crashed out pretty early. GT stayed on, and had a pretty incredible night. Here he is holding Atkinson’s winning trophy, and for him the night finished by sinking beers in a group with Atkinson, Cody Crocker and Alister McRae at about 3am in someone’s hotel room. Ballin’.Alister McRae #APRC #ARC #Asia Pacific Rally Championship #Australian Rally Championship #Caloundra #Camry Hybrid #Chris Atkinson #FIA #Gravel Rally #Imbil #Per Gunnar Andersson #Proton #Queensland #rally #S2000 #Skoda