8 August 2022

Nation's best drivers rally for Motor Neuron Disease research in honour of Canberra photographer

| James Coleman
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Canberra Rally Experience 2022

Rides cost from $30 at the Canberra Rally Experience 2022. Photo: Peter Norton.

Twenty-one rally cars took to the dirt tracks in Kowen Forest near Queanbeyan, but it wasn’t just for fun. The 2022 Canberra Rally Experience raised more than $9000 for Motor Neuron Disease (MND) research.

The event on Sunday, 31 July, was the first since 2011. Clerk of the course Martin Holberton said about 150 members of the general public paid $30 to be strapped into the passenger seat of a purpose-built rally car and rocketed through the pine trees, with some of the south-east’s finest drivers at the helm.

“There were people who jumped for joy when they got out of the car at the end of the five-kilometre loop,” he said.

“We also had a lady whose husband passed away with MND and that was the catalyst for her coming along to the event. And many of the drivers who turned up had friends and relatives with MND.”

It’s all for a good cause.

Motor Neuron Disease describes a group of diseases that affect nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord called “motor neurones”. Without these vital messages, movements such as walking, talking, swallowing and breathing become more and more difficult. Life expectancy ranges from three to 10 years and there is still no cure for MND.

Canberra Rally Experience MND fundraiser

The Canberra Rally Experience – pulled together by the Brindabella Motor Sport Club, Light Car Club of Canberra and Shoalhaven and Kiama Districts Auto Club – supports a different charity each time. Martin said this year’s was inspired by the story of a rally photographer who died with MND in August, 2019.

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“Graham Sporne was a local man who used to take photos at all of Canberra’s rallies,” he said.

“He really loved fast cars and was the proud owner of a limited-edition Subaru WRX STI and a Volkswagen Golf R32. He loved nothing more than taking his ‘babies’ out for a spin.”

Graham perfected his photography skills in Sydney, specialising in black and white, before he began attending The Rally of Canberra in the 1990s, where he quickly became a beloved fixture.

“He was in his element, combining two great passions of fast cars and photography,” Martin said.

“In the forests surrounding Canberra, Graham was always honing his skills and ability, developing himself to capture the perfect action shot.”

At the World Rally Championship (WRC) in 2016, his eldest son noticed Graham struggling to carry his gear between stages. He was diagnosed with MND shortly afterwards.

But he wasn’t ready to give up. He bought himself a drone and learnt how to take photos from the air.

“As a car enthusiast, one of the hardest things Graham faced was having his driver’s licence taken from him on medical grounds,” Martin said.

Graham’s retirement dream was to attend the WRC Arctic Rally in Finland, but just shy of a year of it coming true, he died at home with his devoted wife Maryanne by his side.

While sorting through his things, Maryanne came across boxes of photos, many of them signed by world-famous rally drivers.

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“She wanted to sell them and donate the proceeds to MND research and I suggested we could hold an event to not only raise awareness of MND, but also funds,” Martin said.

The ACT Government and several businesses got on board, including Neal Bates Motorsport, Toyota Gazoo Racing Australia, Shannons Insurance, and Subaru Canberra.

With a history in rally cars, general manager at Subaru Canberra, Jon Dudok, was more than happy to help.

“I was already going down the track of becoming a mechanic when I bought half a rally car at the age of 16,” he said.

“Nowadays, however, I have a wife and kids and don’t have the time – or budget – for it.”

Harry Bates' rally car

Harry Bates’ rally car takes off, literally. Photo: Jack Martin Photography.

Jon described the day as a great introduction to the sport while raising much-needed funds for a worthy cause.

“There’s a very welcoming rally community in Canberra and this is putting it to a good use.”

Martin said organisers were told 11 years ago to make the Canberra Rally Experience an annual event.

“It’s hard to squeeze into the busy rally calendar, but we’ll probably run another one next year.”

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