Harry Bates and Coral Taylor have ended the first day of The Middle of Everywhere Gippsland Rally with a commanding lead after eight completed stages.
The Toyota Gazoo Racing Australia duo picked up where they left off from last month’s Accent Benchtops Rally Queensland to guide their Toyota GR Yaris AP4 to seven consecutive stage wins and a one-minute lead over teammates and current Bosch Motorsport Australia Rally Championship (ARC) leaders, Lewis Bates and Anthony McLoughlin.
Finishing the day in third place were Eddie Maguire and Zak Brakey after the Tasmanians produced a consistent day of top five finishes, while Luke Anear and Malcolm Read finished with an outright second place on SS8 to end up fourth overall – 40 seconds off Maguire and Brakey.
Rounding out the day’s top five were Jamie and Brad Luff, who finished three minutes off the leaders, but enjoyed a comfortable gap over White Wolf Constructions ARC Production Cup leaders Bodie Reading and Mark Young in sixth.
However, the day belonged to Harry and Taylor, who proved just too good for the 54 crews for most of Saturday and will look to build on their healthy one-minute buffer over their teammates.
View the day's full results via the Subaru Results Hub.
"The day was very clean. We didn't go in with a full on attack mode in mind, we went in with a 'still be here tomorrow afternoon' attitude, and that worked well for us," Harry said.
"It was very challenging, which is a word I've used a lot at the last two events, but it was challenging for different reasons to Queensland in that the conditions today were very changeable.
"We went from dry loose conditions into breezy wet conditions, and you didn't know what was around the next corner, so from that point of view, it was a challenge as a driver.
"We need to do homework tonight and make sure that we're ready for tomorrow. The stages are probably just as demanding, if not more, so I just need to make sure that we're staying neat, not making mistakes and making sure that we maintain that one minute lead.
"I think we were in a very good rhythm today and making no mistakes, so we just need to keep doing that. I certainly don't want to back off because I think that's when mistakes can creep in.
"Tomorrow's EROAD Power Stage will be tricky, but it's exciting. It's something different and I reckon the result could be very open. With the style of stage that it is, it could be anyone's to win."
So strong was Harry's performance across the day, that only on three occasions did any crew come close to getting the edge over him in any of his stage wins, with Nathan Quinn and Ray Winwood-Smith going three tenths slower on SS5 and two seconds off on SS6, while Anear and Read were just three tenths off on the day’s final stage.
Unfortunately for Quinn and Winwood-Smith, their hopes of an outright podium took a major blow late in the day, as a broken rear diff caused them to lose four minutes on the final two stages and drop to eighth overall behind the seventh placed Alex Rullo and Steve Glenney.
The 2023 Make Smoking History Forest Rally winners weren’t the only ones to have dramas throughout the day though, with the biggest talking point being the early retirement of Scott Pedder and Glenn Macneall.
Behind the wheel of a top-spec Skoda Fabia R5, Pedder and Macneall got off to the perfect start with a seven-second victory on the opening stage, before crashing out on SS2 – both driver and co-driver sustaining no injury and expected to line up again on Sunday morning.
Another crew to have a big off on Saturday were Queensland youngsters Josh Wiedman and Nick Reid, however unlike Pedder and Macneall, they were able to recover and finish all eight stages.
Bodie Reading and Mark Young lead the White Wolf Constructions ARC Production Cup.
Their recovery run saw them keep their spot atop of the Shamrock Haulage ARC Junior Cup, while still in podium contention for the ARC 2WD Cup, where they trail class leaders Ben and Cathy Hayes by 30 minutes.
Ivan Thompson and Craig Sheahan also finished the day on top of the class as the only crew in the ARC Classic Cup to finish every stage.
It’s far more competitive in the White Wolf Constructions ARC Production Cup, with Reading and Young going into the break enjoying a one and half minute lead over Steven Maguire and Ben Searcy, who finished the day in ninth place outright.
Rounding out the day’s top 10 behind Maguire and Searcy were Troy Dowel and Bernie Webb, the duo having a highly difficult run with multiple problems across the eight stages.
In addition to the ARC, The Middle of Everywhere Gippsland Rally was also hosting the Till US Pickups Motorsport Australia Victorian Rally Championship, which was won by Brendan Reeves and Alex Gelsomino.
The action resumes tomorrow with the remaining eight stages, including the EROAD Power Stage at 2:05pm AEST, which will be live streamed on 7plus.
The Middle of Everywhere Gippsland Rally gets back underway at 9am AEST on Sunday.