2023 Safari Rally – Rough & dusty ex WRC stages

In early October we embarked on the thrilling journey to the penultimate round of the WA Rally Championship for 2023—the highly anticipated 2023 Safari Rally. The Safari Rally holds a special place in our hearts, as we have not only participated as competitors but also as officials, establishing an intimate familiarity with its challenges. Our organiser experience spans from 2013 to 2015, adding an extra layer of insight into the roads, the region, and the unpredictable conditions that make the Safari Rally truly unique.

The 2023 Safari Rally unfolded on roads that were once traversed by WRC Rally Australia, situated around the back of the Mundaring Weir. The location, a mere 30 minutes’ drive east of the CBD, offered a scenic yet challenging backdrop. The Rally’s headquarters and service park were strategically based nearby the Chidlow Tavern, setting the stage for an exciting event. The 2023 Safari Rally attracted a competitive field of just under 40 participants. For those vying for the state championship, six stages awaited, with three stages run twice. Meanwhile, the Clubman competitors faced a slightly shorter distance, completing four stages.

Before the  2023 Safari rally even commenced, there were notable talking points, with much discussion centered on the challenging road conditions. The Safari Rally is renowned for its loose, dusty, and often rough terrains, especially without the presence of moisture. The ball-bearing gravel adds an extra layer of slipperiness, and the late afternoon drop in breeze raised concerns about potential hanging dust during stages conducted in the dark.

Beraking – the talk of the town

One major talking point revolved around a specific stage—Beraking. Located a considerable distance, 25+km from the service park, this stage hadn’t been used for several years. It made the conditions unknown until competitors completed their reconnaissance. Reports confirmed that Beraking was particularly rough for the 2023 Safari Rally event.

Our team entered the 2023 Safari rally with a three-car lineup: Tim and John in their WRX, Glen and Max in the VR4, and Shane and Dermot making their debut in a new WRX. A vehicle for which we haven’t produced a build video. Additionally, Jack and Luke formed a satellite team, competing in their two-wheel drive in Impreza in the Clubman series.

Now, let’s delve into the 2023 Safari rally itself, starting with Stage One— Beraking. The stage started with some smoother, faster sections before competitors encountered the inevitable challenges. Deep ruts and gullies tested the resilience of the cars, subjecting everything under them to a demanding workout.

As predicted, the Safari Rally lived up to its reputation—slippery, loose, and dusty. The conditions on Stage One proved formidable, taking a toll on the entire field. Unluckily, Declan Madigan and Steve Kelly faced a setback in their STI hatch. They experienced a wheel-bearing issue before even beginning the rally in earnest. Dale Faulkner and Rachel Ferrante, in their WRX, had a fortunate escape after going off the road, causing minor damage to their steering.

The challenges continued for Steve Champion and Alex Salter, who, on their first attempt at the 2023 Safari Rally, encountered difficulties. In Stage One they gave their Subaru WRX a fair knock. The drama also extended to Adam Crich and Niamh Nairn, who lost 17 minutes due to an electrical problem with their Evo 3.

Stage Two: More Challenges Unveiled

If Stage One was dramatic, Stage Two brought its own set of challenges. Pete Rullo and Jimmy Marquette faced a tire-related issue with a flat right rear in their Hyundai I20 Rally 2. Craig Rando and Scott Beckwith clipped a drain in their WRX, resulting in the loss of their brakes. Shane Smith and Wayne Richardson, in their WRX, slid off at a corner, causing suspension and panel damage. It cost the pair a loss of about 10 minutes.

The difficulties continued to unfold throughout the 2023 Safari Rally field. Dave Thomas and Mandy Lister aiming for a good run in their WRX, faced disappointment due to a broken driveshaft and a damaged brake line. They had to withdraw after Stage Two. Tony Oates and Riley Griffith also encountered drama, running wide and collecting a rock. The seemingly minor incident bent the left rear suspension in their Honda Civic. Mike Gigney and “Meebs” Amelia Jordan had to retire in their Mitsubishi Lancer due to broken rear suspension.

Hiles and Ward: An Eventful Exit

The most action-packed moment of the early stages unfolded with Tim Hiles and Morgan Ward in their Subaru Legacy RS. A crest broke a driveshaft on landing, and the subsequent corner maneuver didn’t go as planned resulting in a remarkable off-road excursion. The Legacy was battered looking, prompting concerns for their well-being. After assessing the situation, Tim and Morgan decided to withdraw after Stage Two, leaving onlookers in awe at the tumultuous start to the six-stage rally.

Battering the cars!

With only the first service completed and a third of the Safari Rally behind us, discussions within our team shifted quickly to the road conditions. Despite the challenges, things were relatively okay. Tim and John had already dealt with damaged rims, showcasing a notably dented one. The decision was made to change tires after a puncture on one of the last stages, leading to several kilometers driven on a flat, ultimately destroying another wheel and tire in the process.

Glen and Max, piloting the VR4, commented on the rough roads but expressed their enjoyment of the 2023 Safari rally. Meanwhile, Shane and Dermot, the newbies to the rally scene, were still acclimating themselves to the challenges. Their debut included a minor hiccup of getting lost on liaison, resulting in a time loss of around 10 minutes.

Second Leg: A Mix of Challenges

As the rally progressed into the second leg, several competitors faced issues. Keith Hamilton and David Humphry had to retire their WRX due to mechanical problems. Joe McIlroy and Chris Parish encountered fuel pump problems, causing their WRX to intermittently cut out during stages.

Stage Three, a repeat of the Fierce Beraking stage, offered a respite from the drama-filled earlier stages. However, the calm was disrupted by Craig Rando and Scott Beckwith, who experienced hard landings in both Stage Three and Stage Four. These impacts damaged the gear selector and the extractors, resulting in gear change troubles and a loss of boost.

With two-thirds of the 2023 Safari rally completed, competitors entered the second service, marking the finish of the Clubman rally. In the Clubman Masters category, Rod Fowler and Keith Mayes secured second place with their Peugeot 206. The Clubman Masters win went to Julian Wright and Jeff Huggins in their Datsun 1200.

The competitive Clubman Cup

In the Clubman series, a compelling battle unfolded between Lachie White/Kai Rassmason in their Daihatsu Charade and Jack Ryan/Luke Dunkley in their Impreza. The tussle reached a climax on Stage Three, where Jack and Luke ran off the road, losing around 10 minutes. Little did they know that their rivals, Lachies and Kai, would encounter trouble on SS4, leading to their retirement. The Hollingsworth team took third place in their Suzuki Swift, while Jack and Luke, despite the time lost in Stage Three, secured a second-place finish. Sam Moody and Dave Christian emerged victorious in the Clubman category, piloting their Impreza.

Dark & Dust

The last two stages of the 2023 Safari Rally unfolded in the dark. As predicted, with the breeze dropping, the dust was hanging. This change in conditions set the stage for a different face of the rally.

Before delving into the State Two-Wheel Drive Championship and the top 10 outright, let’s review the performance of our team. Shane and Dermot impressed with a clean debut, finishing in a solid 23rd place. Glen and Max showcased their skills in the challenging conditions, securing 14th outright. We’ll revisit Tim and John’s journey shortly.

State Two-Wheel Drive Championship: A Seven-Car Field

The State Two-Wheel Drive Championship featured a competitive seven-car field. Recalling the recent 2023 Karri Rally, husband and wife Alex and Lisa White had a significant off in their Nissan Sylvia. Leading the two-wheel drive championship at the time, they needed to enter the 2023 Safari Rally to keep their championship hopes alive.

In a commendable effort to salvage their 2023 campaign, the Whites cobbled together another Sylvia, using parts from two cars. Their determination paid off as they finished third, overcoming challenges such as bent suspension from their earlier off.

The two-wheel drive category witnessed intense competition. Tony Oates and Riley Griffith managed to secure second place despite dealing with bent suspension issues. The battle for the top spot unfolded between Scott Bennett/Gavin Turner, who snatched the lead from Oates and Griffith by a mere 0.5 seconds in Stage Four. Despite the narrow margin, Bennett and Turner managed to hold on, clinching the victory.

Top ten WA Rally Championship

Tim and John secured 10th position, overcoming a troubled day that involved issues with wheels and tires. Their determination persisted, even picking up a puncture on one of the last stages, driving several kilometers on a flat, and destroying another wheel and tire in the process.

Frank O’Shea/Murish O’Connell brought their WRX home in ninth place, demonstrating resilience and perseverance throughout the rally. John O’Dowd/Tony Feaver, typically accustomed to higher finishes, found themselves further back in eighth place in their Skoda Fabia R5.

Gary Mills and Mitch Gray celebrated reaching the end of the 2023 Safari rally in seventh place, steering their Peugeot AP4 to a respectable finish. Cam Puzey/Ben Madlener showcased a solid performance, sorting out reliability issues in the Legacy RS, securing a sixth-place finish.

Pete Rullo and Jimmy Marquette showcased the endurance of their Hyundai I20 Rally 2, finishing in fifth place. Despite a troubled day, Craig and Scott decided to “send it” on the last stage, which didn’t quite work in their favor, dropping them from third to fourth place.

On the Podium

Alex Rullo and Ben Searcy in their Hyundai I20 Rally 2 secured a commendable third place, highlighting their consistent and reliable performance throughout the 2023 Safari rally.

Daniel “Speedy” Gonzalez and Daymon Nicoli, who had led the rally for a significant portion, faced a twist of fate on the last couple of stages, dropping to second in their Skoda Fabia R5.

First out, First

Drawing car one on the road for the 2023 Safari rally, Dylan King/Lee Tierney had the challenging role of being the road sweeper for the other cars. Despite the initial disadvantage, being car one in the dark proved advantageous, with no hanging dust in front of them. With the experience of winning the Safari in the past, proved their mettle once again, securing another Safari win.

A noteworthy aspect of this year’s 2023 Safari Rally was the second consecutive victory by a production car in a state championship event. The Safari, true to its reputation, delivered surprises, challenges, and excitement, making it a memorable edition in the WA Rally Championship.

The 2023 Safari Rally showcased the resilience and determination of competitors, the unpredictability of the terrain, and the thrill of rallying under varying conditions. Our team, despite facing its share of setbacks, emerged with commendable performances, reflecting the essence of rallying—a sport that continually tests the limits of both man and machine.

The final round of the 2023 season will see us in Collie in late October for the 2023 Experts Cup Rally.

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