The conditions were almost perfect for the start of the Darling 200, the deciding final round of the 2WD and Clubman Cup categories in the Onslow Contracting Western Australian Rally Championship (WARC).
Around Jarrahdale, competitors had to tackle a total of 76 kilometres that consisted of one 25.34 kilometre stage that was run three times, which threw an additional challenge of deteriorating conditions, dust and finishing the event into the setting sun.
Organisers successfully trialled a ‘no wheel spin start’ rule which kept the start line in good condition and minimised dust, for which the Darling 200 is renowned. This year, the Service Park was on the Jarrahdale Oval and worked really well for competitors, crews and officials, as well as locals who enjoyed looking on.
With many flat tyres, a blown engine (2WD: Allout Towing Services, David Farnswroth, 1990 Toyota Corolla), and a multiple roll-over crash (Clubman Cup: Platinum Automotive, Anthony Chudleigh, 1998 Hyundai Excel), there was barely a dull moment.
Despite the WARC 2WD championship being decided at the conclusion of the previous rally, Carrington’s Safari, the championship winner MAXYrally.com.au’s Razvan Vlad wasn’t deterred from pushing and finished the Darling 200 the winner.
Sitting beside the 39-year-old driver Vlad in his 2004 Ford Fiesta was substitute co-driver Caity MacDonald. Daymon Nicoli, Vlad’s usual co-driver and outright third placed co-driver in the WARC, is in Coffs Harbour in NSW about to compete at Rally Australia reading notes for WARC 2016 Outright Drivers Champion Dylan King.
Romanian-born Vlad said that the Darling 200 was a very well organised event and he didn’t expect to show the pace he did.
“I’m very happy. I haven’t done a road book event for over four years – most events I do are pacenotes. It was harder work than I expected but I was pleased to be competitive with pace,” Vlad said.
“Because the championship result was already decided, I really pushed the car and wasn’t driving to preserve it. I wanted to push and get experience doing a road book event because next year the championship, if it stays the same as this year, could be decided at Darling 200. We had a good clean run and Caity [co-driver] did a good job and made no errors.”
Vlad was also awarded an unofficial prize: the Lollipop Award.
Laughing, Vlad explained the Lollipop Award is a result of him teasing the Clubman Cup competitors that once they are able to pick up some pace, they should step up to the 2WD and / or the State Championship.
“I said, ‘C’mon guys, time to step up, the Clubman Cup is good for those new to rally, but in my opinion it’s not for rally drivers who are fast and experienced – are you doing it to get lollipops are the end of the end of the stages?’ And after Darling, they presented me with a giant lollipop – it was very good fun.” Vlad quipped.
Finishing the Darling 200 in second place 28 seconds behind Vlad was Trade Hire’s Kody Reynolds and Anthony Staltari in a 1994 Subaru Impreza. Third place went to Greg Flood Electrical’s Greg Flood and his daughter and co-driver Deeann Flood in their 1994 Mitsubishi Lancer.
Rounding out the top three in the Onslow Contracting Western Australian Rally Championship in 2WD was Kody Reynolds in second place and Gregory Flood in third
The Clubman Cup
The Clubman Cup category was filled with drama and three different stage winners: Mitchel and Stuart Clarke, Datsun 1600; Julian Wright and Ian De Boer, Datsun 1200 Coupe; and Jason and Paul Lowther, Toyota Corolla respectively.
With points tied at the top of the championship table leading into Darling 200, it was always going to be a serious battle between Askwith Safe Company Dene Courtis and Robert King in their 1990 Corolla FX GT and Rally Rats Carl and Tracey Rattenbury in their 1974 Ford Escort Mk1.
Ultimately, it was Network-IT & Backup4me Wright and De Boer who took the top step of the podium at the Darling 200.
Wright said that it was his first event since a significant accident caused damage to car at the Trade Hire Karri Rally in May.
“The big prang at Karri Rally caused extensive damage to the car, but not to me, I wasn’t hurt. I’ve spent six months rebuilding the car to get it ready for the Darling 200.
“It was a lot of work – late nights, every weekend – but I was determined to compete one last time this year. The car hit the ground running on Thursday, the night before the event, untested and untried. That was a bit nerve-racking, not knowing if I’d forgotten to fix something or check something,” Wright said.
“The first stage, I drove terribly, I was very nervous, overshot some corners, made mistakes. The second stage I started getting into the flow, and by the third stage, well, it was survival of the fittest – we did what we had to do to get the end.
“The car performed flawlessly, it was great, which gave me confidence. It was a challenging rallying with tight technical section and others quite loose and slippery with the middle fast and flowing, bits of everything.
“It’s the third year in a row I’ve won the Darling 200 and it’s an event I like – I find it challenging. This year, I really wanted to defend my past two wins. I’m really happy to have three in a row.”
There was an intense battle for the championship title. Dene Courtis and Robert King in their Corolla FX GT dropped a heap of time changing a flat tyre on the second stage to Carl and Tracey Rattenbury in their Ford Escort Mk1. Courtis’ car fell off the jack three times and when Rattenbury passed, Courtis believed that was the end of his Clubman Cup dream.
Rattenbury entered the last stage with a 9-minute lead but then dropped a driveshaft and was stuck on the side of the road, leaving Courtis to drive to victory.
In a testament to the camaraderie in Clubman Cup, the Rattenbury’s next to their broken Escort were seen cheering on Courtis as he sped past in the final stage to take the Clubman Cup 2016 championship title.
Despite his jubilance to win the season, Courtis sympathised with rivals Rally Rats.
“Carl and Tracey were so excited, cheering us on when we drove past them broken down on the stage but I could also see that Tracey was devastated,” 39-year-old Courtis said.
“Like us, they have put in a huge effort this year and to have the championship come down to the final stage of the final event and then not be able to finish because of a mechanical failure, well, that’s tough – sadly, that’s motorsport, that’s rallying. It can be so rewarding some days, soul breaking other days.
“I really thought it was all over for us on the second stage. I was pushing to get ahead when we got a flat tyre about 5 kilometres into the stage. I drove on it for another 2 or 3 kilometres to find a good spot to change it. It was on a bit of a slope and the car fell off the jack three times. I was thinking it’s so cruel to lose the championship because of a flat tyre. I was ready to give up and go sit on a nearby log and watch the rally cars go by, and just spectate. Robbie [co-driver] told me keep going and lucky he did! It’s amazing, it’s still sinking in.
“The Darling 200 was a nice stage, probably one of the better Jarrahdale events I’ve done for a while. It was rough, but that’s rallying.
“We’ve had a mad year and some crazy rallies – and funny enough we managed to win the Clubman Cup without winning an event all year, we did it by finishing each event and loading up with points. Amazingly, it came down to the last stage of the last event.”
The safe-technician with Askwith Safe Company said several people had owned his car before he bought it, including Steve Davies who won the Clubman Cup in it ten years ago (2006).
“We came second last year and I’m really happy to have my name on the Clubman Cup trophy alongside some of my friends this year,” Courtis said.
The next event will be the Onslow Contracting Western Australian Rally Championship Presentation Dinner on 28 January 2017. The Trade Hire Karri Rally will open the 2017 Onslow Contracting Western Australian Rally Championship on 25 March 2017.
For further information on the Western Australian Rally Championship rounds, road closures and results please refer to www.rallywa.com.
The Onslow Contracting Western Australian Rally Championship is supported by Healthway and the Quit message, Onslow Contracting, Verandah Apartments and Auto One.
Darling 200 Results
For all 2WD results, click here
For all Clubman Cup results, click here
The Onslow Contracting Western Australian Rally Championship
1. Razman Vlad (493)
2. Kody Reynolds (368)
3. Gregory Flood (359)
1. Daymon Nicoli (413)
2. Anthony Staltari (368)
3. Deanne Flood (359)
Clubman Cup Drivers
1. Dene Courtis (396)
2. Carl Rattenbury (364)
3. Lance Stringer (312)
Clubman Cup Co-Drivers
1. Tracey Rattenbury (356)
2. Robert King (324)
3. Jace van Saarloos (300)