A JAMES Bond movie stunt driver and an up-and-coming auto electrician stole the show with an enthralling finish to the International Rally of Queensland on the Sunshine Coast today.
Mark Higgins, a three-time British Rally Champion who was a stunt driver in the film Quantum of Solace, won round two of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship on his first attempt at the event.
With Welsh co-driver Ieuan Thomas, Higgins started the final gravel special stage just 1.4 seconds behind India’s Guarav Gill, but by the end of the 34 kilometre test had turned the deficit into a 15.8 sec. winning margin.
Katsu Taguchi, the defending Asia Pacific champion from Japan, finished third.
If the Asia Pacific finish was exciting, the result for heat two of the Bosch Australian Rally Championship second round was simply unprecedented.
Ryan Smart and John Allen, in a Toyota Corolla, took a second straight victory in the series with a measured drive that captured wins in eight of the 19 stages.
But at the start of the final stage, Smart, who is employed in his family’s automotive workshop in the nearby town of Yandina, had been last of three drivers separated by only 2.0 seconds. With a superb effort, he pulled back 15.4 sec. to win the heat and, combined with his heat one victory yesterday, the round.
Meanwhile, Victorians Mark Pedder and Justin Dowel scrapped every metre to the finish and, after 231 kms, two nights and two days of competition recorded identical total times of two hours 23 minutes and 7.1 seconds.
The fights-to-the-finish capped the biggest and best International Rally of Queensland on record.
The event started with a record 96 cars, including 16 from overseas representing drivers or teams from nine countries.
Among those that did not finish was the fancied Proton Motorsports Malaysian factory entry of Australian Chris Atkinson.
The Monaco-based Queenslander set fastest times in his Proton Satria Neo S2000 whenever he ran, but was stopped yesterday and today by an electrical problem and completed only five stages.
Teammate Alister McRae suffered similar problems but was able to fight on to finish fourth.
The weekend’s surprise front-runner Nathan Quinn, from Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, led for five stages yesterday but retired this morning with engine overheating.
Higgins played himself cautiously into an event he had not contested before.
“We were the only one who hadn’t been here before, so it took a little while to get up my confidence particularly on the quick stuff,” he said.
“But eventually I was able to get there and today we picked up three stage wins to put us in a strong position for the final fight.
“It’s great for Ieuan and I to win here. It’s a great event and a great series and we’re looking forward to getting to the next round in New Caledonia.”
Gill said: “We had a terrific fight today with Mark. We threw everything we had at it, but Mark was too good. It was a terrific rally.”
Ryan Smart, who had never won a national rally round before this year, yesterday endured a string of setbacks including an off, but had a faultless run today.
“It’s a bit of change from yesterday. We had a crack at it yesterday and threw it off the road.
“We had everything thrown at us. The competition is unbelievable, only two seconds between the top three cars going into the final stage.
“I just drove flat out all day, but it was a clear day with no mistakes.
“We’re absolutely stoked, home event and all that, it’s going to be a big party tonight.”
FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship, rd 2
1 Mark Higgins (UK) / Ieuan Thomas (UK) Mitsubishi 2 hrs 22 min. 14.2 sec. total time
2 Guarav Gill (India) / Glen Macneal (NZ) Mitsubishi 2:22:30.0
3 Katsuhiko Taguchi (Japan) / Mark Stacey (Aus.) Mitsubishi 2:23:23.8
4 Alister McRae (UK) / Bill Hayes (Aus.) Proton 2:27:59.6
5 Rifat Sungkar (Indon.) / Scott Beckwith (Aus.) Mitsubishi 2:28:17.8
FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship drivers’ standings after rd 2 (provisional)
1 Guarav Gill 53 points
2 Alister McRae 41
3 Mark Higgins 39
4 Chris Atkinson 33
Bosch Australian Rally Championship, rd 2, heat 2
1 Ryan Smart / John Allen (Toyota Corolla) 2 hrs 22:53.7 sec. total time
2=equal Justin Dowel / Matt Lee (Mitsubishi) and Mark Tierney (Mitsubishi) 2:23:07.1
4 Steve Shepheard / John McCarthy (Mitsubishi) 2:27:47.9
5 John Goasdoue / Hugh Reardon-Smith (Mitsubishi) 2:33:48.9
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