International Rally of Queensland – The Classics

Classic rallying in Australia is becoming more and more popular, especially with the addition of a national classic championship that now forms part of the ARC. Rally fans, both old and young, are channelling their heroes and building up the cars of their dreams like never before.

Why the sudden explosion of popularity? Well, to be brutally honest – modern rally cars are a little boring, a little sanitised. Even lower spec cars are so competent these days that they aren’t as much fun to drive as they used to be, and certainly aren’t as spectacular to watch. Going fast is all a little too easy. And when it does go wrong, you’re travelling that much faster and you’re that much more committed that it really hurts.

Classic rallying really boils it back down to the basics. No computers, no major sponsors, no sheep stations on the line. Just the sound of highly tuned old school engines chucking big slides in the forest. At the end of the day, that’s what we come for, right?

The pinnacle of classic rally cars at the moment would easily be Neal Bates’ RA40 Celica.

This is what happens when a professional rally team who are experienced building outright factory cars turn their attention to a classic. The Celica, built by Neal Bates Motorsport, is powered by a very heavily worked 3SGE twin cam 2.0 inline 4 running through a Holinger 5 speed dog box.

As you would expect it’s got all the good bits on it, but the cool thing is that it’s been built as a loose replica of the car Ove Andersson and Henry Liddon drove in the WRC in the early 1980’s. Even in cars built to this level, the spirit of classic rallying remains. Bates and co-driver Coral Taylor won the classic section of International Rally of Queensland by over 12 minutes.

Currently leading the national classic championship is Jeff David and Grant Geelan in their 911.

It was at first a bit of an affront to see a car as beautiful as the 911 splashing through the mud. But then I remembered that 911’s are primarily built as competition cars and have a long heritage of rallying. Polishing and preening is only something that came after that. As Porsche themselves say – “Built for racing. Not posing”.

It’s a little off topic, but this official Porsche video explains my point nicely.

Anyway, back to classic rallying.

You can’t talk about classic rallying without mentioning the immortal Escort. Sadly there was only one example at IROQ, but luckily it was fitted with a BDA engine packing a fair bit of heat.

And the driver wasn’t holding back either – he was pushing 110% every time I head the sweet sounding BDA coming my way.

Speaking of sweet sounding, this BMW E30 M3 was a very unexpected but welcome entry.

E30 M3’s are known for their sublime balance, so this would probably be a pretty sweet thing to drive on the fast, smooth gravel roads of Queensland.

I’m a huge Alfa nut, so I was cheering for the Alfetta GTV entered by Richard Anderson. Alfa aren’t especially known for their rallying prowess, but the GTV was rallied with reasonable success in the period. I love how the flat black bonnet and big Cibie stickers really add to the vintage rallying look.

There was another Celica out as well, an earlier TA22 model. Painted up in a similar factory influenced colour scheme, it really looked the part out there sliding through the special stage.

This post wraps up my coverage of the 2012 International Rally of Queensland. Stay tuned for the next round of the Australian Rally Championship, including the classic championship, which is here in Adelaide next month – Scouts Rally SA from 27-29 July.


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