To understand the future, we must look to the past. It is this belief and an enthusiasm for the glory days of rallying in the seventies and eighties that spawned the inaugural Lightforce Rally of the Heartland, a standalone classic gravel rally held recently that also incorporated round two of the South Australian Rally Championship.
Everyone has an appreciation for contemporary rallying, and anyone who has ever seen a WRC round in person will confirm how much of an incredible spectacle it is. But there is an equally valid and commonly held view that in the pursuits of speed and professionalism, contemporary rallying has lost that crucial element of adventure that attracted so many in the first place. Cars have become significantly faster, but also significantly more costly to run, and events have become shorter.
A group of Adelaide enthusiasts, spearheaded by Ivar Stanelis, decided to do something about it. They proposed a new event which would return the element of the unknown to modern rallying. Entitled Lightforce Rally of the Heartland and based out of the Burra region in South Australia’s Mid North, it would be an old-school, road book only blast along some properly long special stages.
The rally would be a ‘blind’ rally, where crews are not told of the course until the morning of the event and there is no opportunity to write pace notes. It would pass through stretches of road not used for rallying in 20 or 30 years, and would be split into two competitions. The South Australian Rally Championship crews would compete over just one day, whereas the Classic competition would be decided over two.
The headline of the event was the exciting distance of the aptly named Long Stage, which would be used in both directions, once in the dark, on Saturday and again in both directions on Sunday. At 78km in length and running as far north as Hallett, it presented a challenge not seen for decades to the point where some competitors had to fit larger fuel tanks to ensure they completed the distance. To put it into perspective, that’s the equivalent of driving flat out on unknown dirt roads from Adelaide to Victor Harbor, and then turning around and doing it again.
The famed Turbine Row, a usually private road that provides access to the region’s wind farm, would also be incorporated into a 9.7km stage used twice. The turbines provided adequate distraction and inspiration for photographers and spectators, but it was the large crests and long drop-off’s that caught the attention of competitors.
Continuing their fine form at the previous round at Delamere, Aaron Bowering and Nathan Lowe fought off challengers all day to claim the victory in the South Australian Rally Championship category, extending their championship lead.
After rebuilding an engine for it only to blow again on the first stage at the last round, it was brilliant to see Zayne Admiral and Matthew Heywood finally have a good run. They won four stages, and took out third in SARC.
As Saturday night drew to a close and the state championship guys began their celebrations, the Classic guys were well aware that they were only halfway through their event. Evans/Searcy were dominant across the weekend, and went on to win the rally by just over nine minutes.
Stuart Bowes had a dream run in his newly built Mercedes-Benz 450SLC, and with Mark Nelson calling the notes the pair proved that a sensible approach can still yield a satisfying result. Neither had competed for over 20 years, but it seemed to come back to them quite easily and the pair even beat the Stanza of Simon Evans by over a minute on the nighttime running of Long Stage. This elevated the pair to second, which they maintained until the finish.
More than anything this was a brilliant result for car builder Gary Kirk, who can often be found at the Dakar Rally and on other long distance events. Gary Built both the Mercedes and the Datsun, as well as his own MkII Escort which he drove as a course car. To have three out of three cars finish such a long and gruelling event and take two podium places is quite an achievement.
Shane Alker and Karien Heimsohn won the Atlantic Oils Spirit of the Rally Award for their efforts in taking the 180B back to Adelaide for engine repairs on Saturday night, and rejoining the field to complete the rally on Sunday.
Events like Lightforce Rally of the Heartland continue to prove that maybe the sport has moved on a little, that maybe it has come full circle. The sport evolved away from long-distance navigational style events as cars got faster and required more preparation, and I think we’re starting to see a return to the old school. Of an emphasis on fun and enjoyment, of endurance. Of pushing only as hard as you dare, and sharing the experience with your mates.
Words by Andrew Coles
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