I’ve written previously about why I think rallying deserves more attention and more support.
We’re lucky here in the nation’s capital, to have such an effective and professional local rallying organisation, pretty good support from the local community, and some of the best tracks in the country to boot.
So you really shouldn’t need any more persuading to get along to the National Capital Rally this weekend. But just in case you do…
1. We’re going international again
Canberra is typically overlooked in many international sports, but this is one where we’re punching above our weight on the global stage.
They jumped at the chance to bring the international round back to the capital, where it was last held almost ten years ago, even though it meant moving the planned annual event from October forward to May.
There are bigger and better-funded organisations that seem unable to organise their way out of a wet paper bag – but this team has managed to pull together a world-class event in record time.
As a result, you’ll see 49 entrants and 16 teams from nine different countries kicking up the dirt this weekend.
2. See some of the best drivers in the world
Rally drivers are widely recognised and respected as the most skilled (and some would say, bravest…) in motorsport.
They race at speeds similar to other sports, but they do it on dirt roads and gravel, surrounded by trees and possibly wildlife, and at the mercy of changing conditions.
In most events, including the National Capital Rally, drivers will only be able to race the course and plot their navigation a couple of days before the race, and only at normal road speed.
The first time they drive the course at full speed will be in the competition.
Hot Tip #1: You’ll want to look out for reigning APRC champion Gaurav Gill in the Skoda Fabia R5 (below). This is one of the most powerful cars that the Canberra forest roads have ever seen.
3. Get up close and personal
Likewise, rally offers spectators unparalleled access and viewing opportunities.
There are few sports where you can get as close to the drivers, and as close to the action, as you can in rally sport.
Spectator options from Majura Park to the Cotter region will be bigger and better than ever this year, to cater to the growing popularity and expected crowds.
Think improved locations as well as better services, from kids’ jumping castles to car displays and lots of food and drink options.
Hot Tip #2: The National Capital Rally team even publishes a helpful guide to the best spots – check out nationalcapitalrally.com.au/spectators
4. Support our hometown heroes
If Canberra is the spiritual home of rallying (and it is), then Neal Bates is our Guru, and he was kind enough to give me a quick behind-the-scenes tour of his church – I mean, his workshop in Hume – last week.
I got a sneak peek at the cars he and his boys will be driving this weekend, as well as one that’s under wraps for a future launch date.
For the first time, all three racing members of the Bates family will be competing in different classes, sharing the pressure of driving in front of their hometown crowd.
Harry Bates was on his way to an Olympic career in race-walking until he was sidelined by an injury. After catching the family’s motorsport fever, he will line up this weekend opposite his arch-rival and close friend Molly Taylor, competing for the CAMS Australian Rally Championship (ARC).
Taylor is the daughter of rally legend Coral Taylor – who drove with Neal Bates to secure four national championships – and is also the winner of the 2016 ARC overall classification.
Younger brother Lewis Bates will also be a contender this year in the ARC2 class, making a welcome comeback in a leased vehicle after his Corolla was destroyed by fire in Ballarat Vic in March.
And finally, Neal himself will be competing in the Classic section of the competition, lining up his beloved vintage Celica alongside the other pre-1981 classic cars. Alongside Coral, Neal has just been inducted into the Australian Motor Sport Hall of Fame.
Hot tip #3: Even if you’re already busy over the weekend, you can get an early taste of the event. Knock off work early on Friday, head to the Realm Hotel for a drink and to watch the ceremonial start of the rally at 4pm.
5. Stuff can – and does – go beautifully wrong.
Let’s be very clear, everyone wants all the drivers and cars to finish the race safely and in one piece.
But aren’t the thrills and spills so much a part of what makes motorsport so exciting?
And it wouldn’t be an international-standard championship round if we didn’t see the dusty underbelly of at least one vehicle.
Remember last year, when a passenger enjoying a ‘hot lap’ ride-along got the full rally experience after the car unexpectedly flipped and rolled on a treacherous stretch of road? All escaped unharmed, barring the possible cost of purchasing new underwear.
The improving quality of in-car audio and video means we can all share in the pants-wetting fun – check out this video of Leigh Gotch and John McCarthy coming off second best to the infamous Mineshaft in 2013.
The Canberra forest tracks are serious business and no walk in the park (pardon the pun). Parts of the course are notorious for ‘ball-bearing gravel’, which will make for some interesting corners.
I can’t wait.
Are you heading along to the Rally this weekend? Got any more hot tips for us?
All images from 2015 NCR courtesy of CAMS Australian Rally Championship. Image of Gaurav Gill from facebook.com/GillRacing