Round One: Eureka Rally
Date: 18th – 19th March
Location: Ballarat, Victoria
Event Info: http://www.rally.com.au/eureka-rally.html
The Eureka Rally is a new event for the Australian Rally Championship. Held in the forests around Ballarat, they are known by the locals for being fast, technical and narrow.
Being a new event for the series, it will be a new challenge for all of us and we are really looking forward to seeing what the roads are like!
Round Two: Make Smoking History Forest Rally
Date: 21st-23rd April
Location: Busselton, Western Australia
Event Info: http://www.rallywa.com/rallyevents/2017-forest-rally/
The QUIT Forest Rally is the opening round of our series and probably the most unique. This event also holds some great memories for me. After competing overseas, last year was my first year back in the Australian Rally Championship. We came into the first round not knowing what to expect and we won the very opening heat of the Championship. So I’ll always remember that feeling!
What makes the rally so unique is the ‘ball bearing’ surface. The gravel is made up of these tiny ball bearings sitting on top of each other. If you can imagine trying to walk on a pile of ball bearings, you can start to get an idea how slippery that would be to drive on! I love the flowing character of the roads, however you have to treat the stages with a lot of respect given the surface.
One of my favourite stages would have to be Ferndale, the longest of the rally at 26.78km. It changes from twisty and technical to really fast sections. There is one section I particularly like up on the top of a fast ridge, which has lots of blind crests. You are in top gear and you have to trust your notes completely to be able to pick the right line to take over the unseen crests. Not far after this section there is also a really cool jump which is always fun.
The rally is based in Busselton and Nannup, about 3 hours south of Perth. It’s a really beautiful spot. Busselton boasts the longest timber jetty in the Southern Hemisphere at 1.8km and the water in Geographe Bay is crystal clear. I always try to find some time to go for a run along the jetty before the rally action starts.
Round Three: National Capital Rally
Date: 26th-28th May
Location: Canberra, ACT
Event Info: http://nationalcapitalrally.com.au
The National Capital Rally is the coolest event of the year, based in Canberra during May. It’s also the most centrally located, with the service park in the heart of town and two great forests nearby. Because of this forest access so close by, the local support from rally fans and from the ACT government is very strong.
The two forests that make up the rally are very different in nature. The event is almost like two smaller rallies in one. We have to create two different set-ups and adjust the car between each day to suit the different character of the forests.
The Kowen forest is a pine forest with a clay-based soil that can get quite rough. The roads are used by logging trucks so they are generally quite fast, but keep you on your toes with sections of technical corners on smaller roads linking everything together. One of the most famous sections is a big jump in the main spectator area. There is a very long straight before hand so you are at maximum speed on approach. There is a tight left-hander not long after the jump so the tricky part is judging your approach speed so that the wheels land back down on the ground with enough time to brake for the next corner!
The other forest has suffered in some of the big bushfires in Canberra in the past and therefore the landscape has changed quite a bit. The roads are generally quite dry which makes them very slippery with a lot of loose dirt on the surface. The roads here are also ‘crowned’ which means they have a curved surface making your position on the road is very important. If you get offline the camber of the road pushes the car out to the edge. The roads are also very technical so having good pace notes is critical. Preparation for this day is really important and doing here can make a big difference to your event.
This rally will always have special memories for me after winning the event last year. It was my first overall event win at National level and something I’ll never forget.
Round Four: LightForce Rally South Australia
Date: 15th-17th September
Location: Barossa Valley, SA
Event Info: http://lightforcerallysa.com.au
Rally South Australia is the fastest event of the season, based in the wine region of the Barossa Valley, not far out of Adelaide. I really love how picturesque the region is with all the rolling hills covered in grape vines and little café’s and boutique village stores.
As in Canberra, the stages are split into two main areas, each one requiring a different car set up. The majority of the stages are run through the Crawford forest. This forest is made up of lots of junctions and repeated sections of stages, combining all the various roads in the forest. As the stages are repeated the competition between the crews is always tight as everyone becomes more familiar with the roads and specific conditions.
Outside of the Crawford forest we have a number of famous ‘shire’ roads set in the Barossa Valley. These stages are very fast, wide and smooth. They are a real test of bravery! The road can be quite slippery for the first few cars sweeping the loose gravel from the surface, but the grip below that is normally very good. For these stages the car needs to be set up to be stable at high speed and accurate pace notes are key.
There are many farms and houses that line these roads, so it is common for the families living here to invite their friends over for a BBQ out the front and watch the cars go past.
There have also been some night stages in South Australia, which adds another dimension to the challenge. Starting the event with a few stages in the dark can be a great opportunity to make an impact at the beginning of the event if you can get your car and pace notes working well. Will be eating a lot of carrots around September time…
Round Five: Kennards Hire Rally Australia
Date: 16th – 19th November
Location: Coffs Harbour, NSW
Event Info: http://www.rallyaustralia.com.au
As a round of the FIA World Rally Championship, Rally Australia is the biggest event of our season. All the top teams in the world make the journey across to Australia and the atmosphere is electric.
This year the rally has moved to a later time slot in the calendar, making it hotter and tougher than ever. Combined with the extra heat we also have the longest stage of the year, Nambucca, at 50km. This is a real test of the crew and cars and something I really enjoy sinking my teeth into. Physical training is really important to be able to maintain absolute concentration under the elements for that length of time.
The rally also has some of the best rally roads in the country, with a mix of roads similar to Queensland and also some shire roads similar to South Australia.
Based in Coffs Harbour, it’s another scenic location that really shows off the beautiful Australian beaches to the international teams. The event starts in the main street, which is always packed with fans, music and a great buzz. For this year’s event they will also be re-introducing a short stage in town, which is always a fan favourite.
Being a popular holiday area, there are usually lots of holiday rental houses available and often we try to book the whole team together in a house. We are a team but also in many ways more like a family and that’s something I love about rallying. It is a pretty special feeling to be part of a group of people pouring everything into a common goal. When things go well, that shared excitement is pretty hard to describe.
This will also be the final Championship event, so who knows what that will bring!