2021 Forest Rally – Wet & Slippery!

The 2021 Forest Rally was again different from previous years. Normally we start with a super special stage in Busselton on Friday and Saturday night coupled with gravel stages in Nannup. Last year because of Covid that didn’t happen and the 2020 Forest Rally was a name only event. It ran out of Collie using stages around Harvey Weir and Wellington Dam.

New Format for the 2021 Forest

Rather than using the tarmac in Busselton for the 2021 Forest Rally, the first stages used the Bunbury Speedway. This year the cars ran side by side on a dirt autocross track on opening night.

Behind the scenes

In this article I’m also going to peel back the curtain to give you a peak at what it takes run a rally team on the largest event of the year. Nannup is a long way away from Perth. It’s not like we can just walk into an auto parts store and buy things because Nannup simply doesn’t have one. Therefore we had to take all of our tools, equipment and spares with us. It was a fine balancing act to make sure we had what we needed without carting a warehouse with us.

Running even one car of the Forest is a fair undertaking, for the 2021 Forest Rally we ran two cars. Hugh and Karen used their WRX for state championship whilst Tiana and Graham ran the shorter Clubman Cup event in their Impreza.

A helping bowser

 One thing that did help immensely on the 2021 Forest Rally was not having to supply our own fuel. To do a two-day event in the bush we’d have to have brought several hundred liters of fuel. That would have been a big logistics problem. Thankfully in Nannup there is a service station that carries 98 octane fuel which was available for rally competitors.

Opening night at the Bunbury Speedway for the 2021 Forest

Kicking off at the Bunbury Speedway

 The rally started Friday night with four runs around the Bunbury super special stage. The side-by-side racing was reminiscent of the old days of Rally Australia. A few of us had been down south since Wednesday however the bulk of our team didn’t arrive until Friday night. Logistically we had to sort out food at the speedway and we decided Pizza was the easiest.

 Super Special Stages are great for spectating and a good warm up for competitors. There’s an old saying: “You’ll never win a rally on a super special however if you’re not very careful you can certainly lose it!” At the end of the opening night it was good to put both the cars on the trailer without a scratch.

 By the time we got loaded up and out of there it was already getting late. With over an hour’s drive up to Nannup it was 11:30PM when we got to our accommodation. The 2021 Forest Rally was underway!

Day 1 of the Forest Rally

 It was an early start on Saturday morning in the Nannup service park. As with many of us these days our team largely runs on caffeine. We got the kettle boiling straight away and threw bacon and eggs on the BBQ for breakfast. In the meantime we set up everything did a few minor bits on the cars

We tied up extra tarps and tried to prepare for wet weather. They predicted rain and right on cue it came down. If only parcel delivery schedules could be as accurate as weather forecasts! By mid-morning the rain had set in and the 2021 Forest rally stages were becoming slippery.

Down came the rain!

After the first service the rain came down even heavier. It turned the service park and the forest roads into a quagmire. To say it was going to be a tough test was an understatement. Driving rain, rivers flowing down the stages and mud were just the tip of the iceberg. Almost all teams were having trouble with fogged windscreens too. Our guys resorted to carrying towels in the cars to wipe the windscreens!

John O'Dowd and Toni Feaver sliding around on muddy roads in their Skoda Fabia R5

Competitors were relieved to return to service after another group of stages. Some had already succumbed to the conditions and slipped off the road finding the scenery. Other cars were not happy about ingesting water causing mechanical and electrical issues. Thankfully our team wasn’t having any of those dramas on the 2021 Forest rally.

The weather did cause the cancellation of two stages on Saturday afternoon. It shortened the competitive distance by 32km and brought about an early finish to the Clubman. The news wasn’t all bad though.

Podium place in the Clubman Cup

Through all the challenges Tiana and Graham worked hard. The Impreza had also lost a section of the exhaust early Saturday which dropped power and made a racket. Despite everything the pair took third place in the 2021 Forest Rally Clubman Cup. The 19 year old driver had secured a podium finish on only her second rally.

Tiana Chapman and Graham Mogg took 3rd place in the Clubman Cup after a challenging day.

 Whilst that was the end of the clubman it wasn’t the end of the day. The state guys went out and did two more stages in the late afternoon. Hugh and Karen had taken it pretty easy in the treacherous conditions. It had paid off with a clean run. There was still one service to go it was getting dark, it was cold and it was definitely still wet. The service park and our team were all soaked to the bone.

 Saturday evening and we were all happy to huddle around the fire back at our accommodation. A hot shower, dinner and a few laughs helped to ease our weary crew. The rally cars however spent a cold damp night in Parc Ferme awaiting the next day’s competition.

Day 2 of the Forest

 Day 2 of the 2021 Forest Rally was similar to Saturday except we had a later start and the sun was out. The service park was still pretty soggy and so was most of our gear! We took advantage of the early rays and tried to dry a few things out.

 Even though we’ve had a lot of rain overnight the roads were in pretty good condition on Sunday. Hugh and Karen had a great time on the first group of stages. The weather didn’t hold out for long though. By the second service it was a carbon copy of the day before. We even had to use extra umbrellas to shield each other whilst servicing.

Mark Travers clinging on to the edge of the road.

The last test of the 2021 Forest rally was designated as a power stage. This meant the top 10 cars ran in reverse order. Under normal circumstances it could have changed the results of the event. With Sunday’s conditions it was more like a mud stage and most crews took it fairly easy.

We were very thankful to have both cars through to the finish of the 2021 Forest Rally without a scratch. The weekend had really been trying and many had trouble with the conditions. A few teams have their work cut out to get their cars ready for round 3.

The next event in the 2021 RallyWA series will take us to Donnybrook for the Grimwade stages rally in late July. Our cars only need routine maintenance and some cosmetic changes to be ready.

Photos couretsy of Blake Rattenbury and Simon Gratton.

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