Craig Rando has won his first ever Dunlop Tyres Motorsport Australia Western Australia Rally Championship (WARC) round in a dramatic Grimwade Stages rally.
With 27 crews taking on the eight-stage rally around the Grimwade plantation, Rando and co-driver Stephen Wade claimed the memorable victory by just eight seconds over Ben Searcy and Ben Nicoli.
Although the Subaru Impreza pilots ended up winning the event, they didn’t take the lead until the penultimate stage when long-time leaders John O’Dowd and Toni Feaver were forced to retire due to their Skoda Fabia R5’s engine overheating.
Previous to those seventh stage dramas, the day had almost completely belonged to O’Dowd and Feaver, who after losing the first stage to Searcy and Nicoli, went on to easily win the next three stages and build a lead of 37 seconds.
Searcy managed to steer his Mitsubishi Evo to a win over O’Dowd in the event’s fifth stage, however O’Dowd won the sixth stage of the day, and his fourth, as the gap between he and the second placed Rando extended to an event-high 47 seconds.
On track to win another round of the season, O’Dowd and Feaver were then forced to withdraw from the event at the start of SS7 due to their engine smoking – an issue O’Dowd later revealed occurred due to the car's bottom intercooler picking up a heap of mud during the previous stage.
As a result of the withdrawal, Rando and Wade were then elevated to the top of the standings, 17 seconds ahead of Searcy and Nicoli, and all they were required to do was guide their car home in one piece for the final two stages, which they did successfully.
"To say I’m really proud to finish with the Rando Crews first outright win is an understatement," Rando said.
"The feeling is especially good seeing that our hard work is starting to convert to outright speed and closing the gap to the undoubtable benchmark of rallying in WA at present John O’Dowd and Toni Feaver not to mention the always fast Ben Searcy and Daymon Nicoli.
"The close battles that are forming in the WARC are great to see, whether it be up front or throughout the field it's a plus for W.A. Rallying and the roads we get to compete on are second to none.
"It was a brilliant event with awesome roads in perfect condition, which were fast and exciting. Credit to the Southwest Touring Car Club for putting on a great event."
While Searcy and Nicoli ended up winning the final two stages, it was too little too late as they finished eight seconds short of their first win for the year – the duo’s disappointing second and fourth stages proving the difference .
As Rando, Searcy and O’Dowd spent the whole day in a league of their own, behind them was a similar story with David Thomas and Paul Helm comfortably in fourth place all day.
The duo were clearly the best of the rest until disaster struck on the sixth stage where their Impreza suffered a puncture with 10kms to go, forcing them to stop and lose seven minutes while changing tyres.
Thomas’ fall to 12th opened the door for Jack Flanagan and Camden Puzey to slot into fourth place and just one stage later they were on the podium when O’Dowd withdrew.
Ali Aslam and Scott Beckwith in another Impreza and Ford Fiesta pilots Glenn Alcorn and Jonathan Charlesson also benefitted from Thomas and O’Dowd’s issues with the two crews rounding out the top five respectively at the end of the rally.
Alcorn and Jonathan didn’t go home with just an outright top five finish, they also won 2WD Championship round honours after an enthralling battle with Mark Travers and Jeremy Edwards.
Travers had the better start of the two crews, guiding his Toyota AE86 to the top after two stages but the crews then exchanged the lead multiple times before Alcorn’ guided his Ford Escort to wins on the final three stages and a 13 second victory.
In the Clubman Cup, Glenn Cawood and Murish O'Connell were victorious after beating Bruce Lake and Peter Hall by 30 seconds.
The next round of the WARC is the Karri Rally in Manjimup on 21 August.