The Make Smoking History Experts Cup, the final round of the CAMS Zestino Tyres Western Australian Rally Championship (WARC), is done and dusted for 2019 after a fight for the final podium places.
There were 38 competitors at the start line and 33 that crossed the finish line after racing the clock over six stages, a total of 110 competitive kilometres in the plantations around Wellington Dam south of Collie. In hot and sunny conditions, the dry stages became very dusty as the wind dropped off in the afternoon.
Finishing the rally fastest were this year’s WARC outright driver and co-driver champions John O’Dowd and Toni Feaver in their Truck Wholesale WA Skoda Fabia R5.
O’Dowd, who entered five and won all five WARC events, said it had been a good year.
“If you’d told me at the start of the season that we would win five out of five, I wouldn’t have believed it. The car has been great, Race Torque has done an amazing job and so has my co-driver Toni. I’m very happy,” O’Dowd said.
In his second consecutive championship win, O’Dowd said that he’ll be contesting the WARC again next year to go for a hat trick.
“Our concentration in 2020 will be on the national championship but we will still contest the WA Championship, not only because I want to support it, but because I love the pea gravel surface that’s unique to WA.”
Before next year though, O’Dowd will be heading east to compete in the World Rally Championship event, the Kennards Hire Rally Australia from 14 to 17 November on the Coffs Coast in NSW.
“It’s unique to our sport that anyone can enter a WRC event and rally on the same stages as the world’s best. I’m hoping we can finish off a great year on a high at Rally Australia,” O’Dowd said.
O’Dowd said he’d like to thank all rally officials and volunteers who do an amazing job.
Finishing second in the Experts Cup was Stephen Oxley with co-driver Michael Wood in their CASA Security Subaru Impreza STI.
“It was a technical event, lots of overshooting opportunities on 90-degree corners and hairpin bends and it was a bit dusty especially on the fifth stage. But generally, we had a good run. We didn’t make too many mistakes, didn’t break anything and importantly, we had a good time,” Oxley said.
“I’m so happy with finishing second, there was some some serious competition from Ben Searcy and Brad Markovic who made me push, particularly in the last stage.”
Oxley is retiring from driving but said that he’ll stay involved in the sport as an official.
Rounding out the top three of the Experts Cup was Ben Searcy in his Swift Motorsport Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9, this time with specialist co-driver Steve Glenney. Searcy finished the WARC in second place outright.
Searcy said that his plan this year was always to go out and learn.
“I’m really happy with the result - to finish second in the championship in my first year back driving in a very long time is great. I’ve really enjoyed the year and I couldn’t have done it without help of the team, Race Torque and all my sponsors,” said Searcy, who added that he’ll be back behind the wheel in 2020.
“It was really valuable having Steve Glenney in the passenger seat giving advice and guidance, and he’s given me plenty of homework to do before next season.”
In just his second year competing, Craig Rando finished the WARC in third outright when he crossed the final time control at Experts Cup in fifth place with his co-driver Matthew Scafidi in their Rando Constructions Subaru Impreza WRX.
Rando thanked organisers and volunteers and said that this year’s rallies and stages were amazing.
“We’ve had a great year competing against a quality WA rally field and really thrilled finishing third outright,” Rando said.
“A massive thanks goes out to my family, my co-driver Matt, Rando Constructions and Race Torque for the help and support all year.”
There were a few thrills and spills during the rally. Experienced tarmac rally driver Peter Major experienced his first gravel rally ‘off’ on the first stage before getting back on track only to have to retire with a mechanical after Stage 4.
Kody Reynolds who also had an off on the same corner as Major but on the second pass on Stage 4, had worse luck when Glenn Alcorn came over a crest of hill, hitting Reynolds’ beached car in the rear corner pushing it down the hill, making recovery a little trickier. That didn’t seem to worry Reynolds who, in a true show of comradeship and the rally spirit, helped Alcorn push his car back onto the stage so he could keep competing while Reynolds was forced to retire.
2019 WARC Drivers
- John O’Dowd
- Ben Searcy
- Craig Rando
2019 WARC Co-Drivers
- Toni Feaver
- Matthew Scafidi
- Jimmy Marquet