22 March 2024

Rally of Canberra is this Fyshwick mechanic's favourite event of the year

| James Coleman
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rally car on track

Techworkz Automotive Subaru in the Rally of Canberra 2023. Photo: Peter Norton.

You might know Mick Harding as your local Subaru mechanic. But when he’s not tinkering with front and rear diffs and boxer engines in his Fyshwick workshop, he’s out in the pine forests around Canberra, pushing machinery to the max.

Mick founded Techworkz Automotive in 2010 for independent Subaru servicing and repairs.

“It started off with just myself and an apprentice, then back to myself for a while, and now we’ve grown to a team of 11,” he says.

“We’ve gained a really good reputation within Canberra, both among the general population and other workshops.”

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But ever since high school, rallying has been where he gets his biggest kicks.

His friend bought a Datsun 1600 and entered in a couple of events, him as driver and Mick as co-driver. Both were still on their ‘P’ plates. After all, it was much easier to source a rally car in those days because of how few changes they required compared to those on the showroom floor.

“I don’t think they went very well, from memory,” Mick muses.

“The car had problems, and we crashed.”

Mick Harding with car

Mick Harding founded Techworkz Automotive in 2010. Photo: Peter Norton.

Undaunted, they studied the moves of professionals such as Canberra’s Neal Bates, New Zealand’s Possum Bourne, and Britain’s Colin McRae. Mick also spent some time in Queensland and Victoria before returning to Canberra in the 2000s, a seasoned rally driver.

“I’ve pretty much been involved in the sport ever since, both as a competitor and sponsor.”

He’ll be both again in April, when the Australian Rally Championship (ARC) returns to Canberra from 5 to 7 April. The Rally of Canberra (ROC) – where last year’s season ended with a nail-bitingly close battle between the Bates brothers in their Toyota GR Yaris cars – will drop the flag on the 2024 season.

Mick Harding, Adrian Dudok and Harry Bates

Techworkz Automotive founder Mick Harding, Rally of Canberra clerk of the course Adrian Dudok and Harry Bates. Photo: Peter Norton.

Techworkz Automotive has come on board as name sponsor, and Mick himself will be fittingly at the wheel of his Subaru Impreza WRX.

He says the Rally of Canberra is the most gruelling of the ARC’s six rounds – “a real war of attrition” – but it’s also his favourite.

“It’s always pretty epic – roads are tough but great,” he says.

“It’s always been run well and professionally. I’ve been to plenty of championships and ROC is probably my favourite, and it’s nice and close to home as well.”

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The Subaru was only meant to be a stand-in while he waited for a new Skoda to arrive in 2019, but shipping delays meant his crew had time to turn it into a proper weapon.

“We ended up making this car really competitive. It still looks like a ’93 model, but from a mechanical point of view, it’s a modern driveline.”

He says while modern cars are “a lot more technologically improved”, this also makes it prohibitively expensive for most. Rallying is not a sport for teenagers to simply pick up in high school anymore. But this also makes it a considerably safer sport.

“For the drivers and navigators and team that put the car together, it requires a lot more skill than other motorsport disciplines. When you’ve got 50 or 60 cars going over the same patch of dirt, the roads degrade significantly. So even if you do the same corner twice, it’s not the same.”

rally car on track

The Bates’ Toyota Yaris GR getting air. Photo: Dave Oliver.

Mick reckons the best part is when the world goes quiet and it’s just you and the car, dancing.

“The best thing about it is getting the cars to dance all over the road – coming into corners completely crossed up, but completely in control.”

Newer and faster cars – and more of them – are this year expected to make for hot competition.

Last year’s winning team, Harry Bates and co-driver Coral Taylor crossed the line only 2.1 seconds ahead of Lewis Bates and co-driver Anthony McLoughlin. But Harry isn’t expecting a repeat this time, despite the new GR Yaris which has been honed in Europe for better suspension travel and gearing so it can slingshot out of corners with even more gusto.

drivers on podium

The podium finish for Harry Bates and Coral Taylor at the Rally of Canberra 2023. Photo: Peter Norton.

“I’ve just taken delivery of my new Rally 2 Yaris, so that’s really exciting,” Harry says.

“It’s going to be a tougher year for Lewis and me – I don’t think we’ll be finishing 1-2 as often.”

The Rally of Canberra, hosted by the Brindabella Motorsport Club and supported by the ACT Government’s Event Fund, will get under way with a ceremonial start at Gungahlin Place from 6 pm, Friday 5 April (open to the public). Two days of rallying in the Tidbinbilla and Kowen forests will follow. The service centre will be located at Exhibition Park in Canberra (EPIC).

A spectator guide will be released soon.

Visit the Rally of Canberra website for more information.

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