John O’Dowd has kept his 2021 Motorsport Australia WA Rally Championship title hopes alive after winning the WA Car Club Karri Rally.
Heading into the round trailing championship leader Ben Searcy by 38 points, O’Dowd needed a win to stay in touch with the leader.
With 28 crews braving the rainy conditions to tackle the five stages, it was RSEA Safety Motorsport Australia Rally Championship regulars O’Dowd and co-driver Toni Feaver who got off to the best start, claiming the opening two stages and outright lead of five seconds over fellow title contender Craig Rando.
Sitting in fourth place and 20 seconds behind O'Dowd after the opening two stages, Searcy and co-driver Daymon Nicoli needed a big result on the third stage of the day and they delivered, steering the Mitsubishi Lancer to a much-needed stage win and moving up to third outright.
A big effort from the O'Dowd on the fourth stage saw him pull out to a nine second gap over Rando and his co-driver Stephen Wade, who were holding onto second place after Searcy had closed the gap to just four seconds.
A dramatic final stage had big implications for the championship as Rando’s failure to finish saw him dropped from the event standings and effectively out of title contention in the process.
Rando’s DNF allowed Searcy to sneak into second place behind O’Dowd for the event, while stage five winners Jack Flanagan and Camden Puzey ended up rounding out the event's podium.
O’Dowd is now just 26 points behind Searcy as a result of his victory, however with just two rounds remaining, the Skoda Fabia R5 pilot will need luck to go his way if he is to secure another WA championship to add to his trophy cabinet.
"Before the event, we were really mindful of being nearly 40 points behind Ben in the championship,” O’Dowd said.
“Ben's been really consistent this year and banking solid points. So the Grimwade Rally was, championship-wise, really damaging for us.
"Add to that, a couple of stages at Karri featured long straights where we were outpaced by the EVOs and WRXs. Our top speed is just over 180km/h, but Searcy and Craig Rando would have been hitting speeds approaching 200km/h, so it was vital that we were 'on it' from the very first stage.
“I guess the championship is out of my hands in a way. But anything can happen in rallying. Craig Rando may still play a part; he had some bad luck here but as we saw at Grimwade, he is pretty quick.
“From here all I can do is keep my head down, try and win the remaining events and then see how things play out."
In the WA 2WD Championship, Glen Alcorn and Jonathan Charlesson secured a 42-second victory over Alex and Lisa White, steering their Ford Escort to three of the five stage wins.
Rounding out the 2WD podium a further 25 seconds off the pace was teenager Max McRae and co-driver Bill Hayes.
In his first proper rally since May’s Accent Benchtops Rally Queensland, McRae showed plenty of consistency for the event, securing a win on the event’s final stage.
“Three months out of the car definitely left me a little bit rusty – especially in the rain,” McRae said
“I’ve spent more time in the Radical race car recently, so I had to get my head around a real change in the driving style. It helped that this was the first event I was coming back to.
“I did the Karri Rally last year, so I knew a bit about what to expect.
“There’s always something to learn and understanding more on how to dial the car and my driving style into the evolving conditions and the grip coming from the road is really valuable.”
Click here to view full results from the weekend.
The next round of the Motorsport Australia WA Rally Championship is the Darling 200 on 2 October.