Harry Bates and Coral Taylor have been crowned champions of the 2023 Bosch Motorsport Australia Rally Championship (ARC) after a thrilling season finale in Canberra.
Highlighting the closeness of this year’s season-long title fight, Bates and Taylor needed to win both the Subaru Canberra Rally of Canberra outright and Sunday afternoon’s EROAD Power Stage in order to take out the championship.
And the duo did just that, as they won the final stage of the season by two seconds over fellow title contenders Lewis Bates and Anthony McLoughlin, which saw them eventually take out the event by just six seconds.
As a result of both the event and EROAD Power Stage victories, Harry and Taylor finished on the season on 531 points, ultimately edging out Lewis and McLoughlin by just one point, as the Power Stage bonus points proved the difference in the end.
The two Toyota Gazoo Racing Australia crews had been fighting it out throughout the whole 12-stage event, with Lewis and McLoughlin ending Saturday’s competition holding a six second advantage.
Sunday morning’s three stages provided fans with a breathtaking duel between the two as they exchanged stage wins - Harry and Taylor’s win on the day’s first stage elevating them to the lead, before Lewis and McLoughlin re-took the lead on the following stage.
An overshoot for Lewis on Sunday’s third stage saw him 11 seconds slower than Harry and demoted him back into second place by five seconds at the midway point of Sunday.
Harry’s stage win on the fourth stage of the day extended his lead out to almost seven seconds, before another push from Lewis helped win the penultimate stage of the event and bring himself to within four seconds.
However, Harry and Taylor then produced their incredible run on the EROAD Power Stage to seal the win over Lewis and McLoughlin by just one point.
The victory makes Harry an Australian Rally Champion for the second time in his career, having first won it in 2019 alongside John McCarthy, while Taylor claimed her fifth as a co-driver after winning four alongside Harry and Lewis’ father Neal - her last being the 2008 crown.
"I just can't believe it. I'm totally lost for words," Bates said.
"It's been a really, really up and down year and for it to culminate in this (the title) in front of so many Canberrans, it's incredible to see so many fans out here to witness it.
"There is a lot of relief right now and I'm just so happy that we're able to do the job today.
"It's just amazing to have my team right here behind me - an incredibly hard working group of guys and girls who also deserve a round of applause - and obviously to have my family here as well, it's emotional. I just can't believe it's my second ARC title.
"It didn't all go exactly to plan this weekend. We had a lot going on in the car and obviously the battle between Lewis and I was very tight, but we had to make sure that we were keeping up our intensity because Lewis and Anthony were on fire this weekend.
"The fact that the battle came down to 3.9 seconds for the event is just crazy. It took a lot of mental strength to get through this weekend."
While the battle for the outright title took centre stage for much of the weekend, there was plenty at stake behind them as Eddie Maguire and Zak Brakey rounded out the podium.
In what has been a stellar debut year for Maguire and Brakey, the Tasmanians also secured third place on the overall season standings having finished every event on the podium since making the switch to the Skoda Fabia R5.
Finishing the event behind Maguire and Brakey were the returning Taylor Gill and Daniel Brkic, who held off a fast charging Luke Anear and Malcolm Read to take out fourth place by just 12 seconds. Troy Dowel and Bernie Webb placed sixth outright a further nine seconds off Anear.
It was a memorable performance from the young New South Welshman in Gill, who also won the White Wolf Constructions ARC Production Cup round in the process. Gill and Brkic made a welcome return to Australia, having spent most of the year in Europe as part of the FIA Rally Star program.
Gill’s biggest challenger for much of the rally came in the form of Molly Taylor and Andy Sarandis, who ended up one minute behind in seventh place outright and second in the Production Cup, despite having led in the early stages of the rally.
Behind her was an even closer battle as Peter Rullo and James Marquet took out eighth place ahead of Richie Dalton and Dale Moscatt by just three seconds – the latter crew still leaving Canberra as winners after claiming the Motorsport Australia New South Wales Rally Championship win and title earlier in the day.
Rounding out the top 10 and the White Wolf Constructions ARC Production Cup podium were Steve Maguire and Ben Searcy.
With Gill winning the class for the event and Maguire finishing third behind Taylor, it meant that Bodie Reading was crowned as the champion driver for the White Wolf Constructions ARC Production Cup, despite the young Tasmanian ending the event in 13th.
In other classes, Tom Clarke and Ryan Preston steered their Datsun Stanza to 17th place outright to win the ARC Classic Cup for the second consecutive round, while rising stars Josh Wiedman and Nick Reid edged out Ben and Cathy Hayes by just over a minute to win the ARC 2WD Cup.
Despite not winning the event, a strong season from the Hayes saw them sew up the ARC 2WD Cup title earlier this year, while Wiedman and Reid also won the Shamrock Haulage ARC 2WD Cup – their victory sealing the class title and earning them a drive in Dalton’s Toyota Yaris AP4.
View the full results via the Subaru Results Hub.
With the 2023 ARC season now complete, all attention will soon turn to the 2024 Bosch Motorsport Australia Rally Championship, which will begin in Canberra next year, with Bosch Motorsport to once again come on as the naming rights partner.