Australians Molly Taylor and co-driver Bill Hayes won the Australian Rally Championhsip in their All-Wheel Drive Group N production class Subaru WRX STi NR4 yesterday. PHOTO CREDIT: SUBARU AUSTRALIA
Subaru do Motorsport team driver Molly Taylor has become the first female winner of the Australian Rally Championship (ARC) after the tightest title tussle in 25 years.
A brilliant three-day campaign at the Kennards Hire Rally Australia in the All-Wheel Drive Group N production class Subaru WRX STi NR4 saw Taylor join the distinguished list of ARC champions after a mature run across 23 stages at the Coffs Harbour, NSW, event - also winning the ARC class in the rally - her first - yesterday.
Taylor was aided by the invaluable experience of co-driver Bill Hayes, who took out the co-driver’s title too.
The Les Walkden Rallying-prepared Subaru WRX STI proved a trusty turbocharged trailblazer over the dust-dominated weekend on the NSW north coast.
The title came after rally leader Mark Pedder incurred a one minute time penalty after the competition concluded, provisionally* placing Taylor on 329 Championship points, early leader Simon Evans on 327 and Harry Bates on 321. It also placed the Subaru team third among ARC entrants in the rally.
After five rounds across Australia and hundreds of competitive kilometres, the title chase dramatically came down to the final two stages of Rally Australia, totalling just 12.44 kilometres.
And with Taylor needing to leapfrog Pedder to gain sufficient points to win the championship, the results of the timing enquiry post-event left the Subaru team on tenterhooks – only learning of their success as they awaited their turn to drive onto the podium at the ceremonial finish in Coffs Harbour town city.
The win adds to the Subaru Australia trophy cabinet, where 10 consecutive ARC titles from 1996 to 2005, made an unbeaten benchmark before the team withdrew from domestic rallying, only re-emerging this year under the Subaru do Motorsport banner.
A delighted Taylor said yesterday: “I can confirm today that dreams really do come true.”
“Talk about taking it down to the wire! We knew we had to give it everything on those last two stages after a really consistent run all weekend and we pushed so hard.
“And then to get the news that there was a possible penalty for Mark, it was like being on a rollercoaster.
“Bill, Les Walkden and the team have done an amazing job all year and it’s such a pleasure to work with a truly professional outfit that has an amazing team spirit.
“We’re so pleased to be able to do it for Subaru too, with their incredible rally heritage.”
Subaru Australia Managing Director, Colin Christie, says: “We’re ecstatic with this result on so many levels.
“It’s wonderful for Molly to not only win the driver’s championship, but also become the first female to do so and we’re honoured to have such a fantastic role model to inspire young people.
“Equally, we’re proud of Bill in taking out the co-driver’s championship. Together Bill and Molly have worked as a wonderful partnership throughout the season and it’s a great credit to them that they have seized their respective titles.
“Les Walkden and his team have displayed tremendous professionalism all year and we’re delighted with their achievements on behalf of Subaru do Motorsport.
“It’s all been underpinned by the great engineering and reliability of the production class WRX STI – we couldn’t ask for a better advert for this incredibly versatile car.
“And we’re also honoured that after more than 10 years out of domestic rallying, Subaru has returned to continue its unbroken run of championship wins.”
Subaru of New Zealand Managing Director Wallis Dumper also wanted to congratulate Taylor and Hayes on their incredible achievement.
“Molly and Bill shoud be justifiably proud of their result and they have also ensured a proud day for Subaru in continuing our brand’s fantastic rally history. Coffs Harbour has repeatedly been the centre for Subaru success, with the late, Kiwi rally legend Possum Bourne winning four consecutive events there from 1996-99,” Mr Dumper says.
Early indications of a good day ahead came in Saturday evening’s two Super Special Stages at Coffs Harbour Jetty, which – despite the short 1.27 kilometre duration, were sufficient to maintain the team’s overall third placing at day’s end.
With just five competitive Sunday stages across 57.18 kilometres, Taylor and Hayes pressed hard to chip away at the overnight lead of Harry Bates and their opportunity struck on SS20, the day’s longest stage, when the Toyota experienced problems, relegating Bates to 18th on stage.
From then on it was Taylor’s renowned consistency - and the title incentive ahead – that proved pivotal.
The team competed in all five rounds of the Kumho Tyre Australian Rally Championship 2016, growing in confidence as familiarity with the WRX STI increased as the season progressed.
*Subject to final confirmation by the Australian Rally Championship.