30 May 2023

'Go like the clappers': Motorsport fans revved up for iconic rally's July return

| James Day
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rally car action

Dirt flies as Toyota Yaris rally driver Richie Dalton attacks a bend in a forested area. Richie is looking forward to this year’s challenge after being the equal winner in 2022. Photo: Shamrock Motorsport.

In the final days of July, drivers and spectators from all over the country will descend upon Batemans Bay for the annual Lazer Rally of the Bay. The gravel-based track will host some of the best Australian rally talents on 29 July, competing for the podium over 10 time-trial stages.

Brett Middleton, who has been attending the event since becoming a member of the North Shore Sporting Car Club (NSSCC) more than 40 years ago but now acts as its president, says it is one of the country’s longest-running state rally championships and considered by many legends of the sport as one of the best.

“The rally itself is based just out of Batemans Bay at Corrigans Reserve, which is on the road to Batehaven and just off the Princes Highway,” he said.

“It’s a huge area that is open grassland, right on the edge of the water and a main road.

“The whole event is free so there’s no charge for spectators. They can either watch the cars start, finish and being worked on at Corrigans service area, or while they’re racing at a few spectator points that are just outside of Batemans Bay and very easy to get to in a road car.”

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Richie Dalton, a rally driver for the Shamrock Motorsport team, has raced six times, winning on three occasions, and intends to win his fourth event after drawing for the top of the podium last year. Originally from Ireland and raised going to races with his father, a former rally navigator, he says this event is his favourite.

“For me, it’s the atmosphere of going down to Batemans Bay, enjoying the weather and having many of my Sydneysider friends join,” Richie said.

“The roads are absolutely fantastic, they’re so fast and flowing, plus you can really attack the turns.

“I love the buzz of going around the gravel bends sideways, trusting the notes your navigator wrote, while doing over 100 kilometres an hour.”

Drivers undertake reconnaissance with their navigator the day before the race, by going to the track in their own road cars, following the public speed limits and rules while taking notes.

”If you do that, it is much easier and safer, plus you can go like the clappers,” Richie says.

rally car's stripped-out interior shell

Richie’s souped-up Toyota Yaris has the latest technology, suspension and brakes, which he says is “everything you need to get the job done right”. Photo: Shamrock Motorsport.

The car Richie drives is made from the shell of an Australian-built Toyota Yaris and was on the 2019 Harry Bates Australian Rally Championship-winning team. He says last year’s draw was “probably the most exciting rallying event we’ve ever had”.

Over eight stages, Richie and Clayton Hoy of the Mitsubishi Lancer team battled it out until the last stanza, when the final result came down to a 0.4-second difference.

“Clayton drives a powerful 20-year-old Mitsubishi Evo, but my car is set up for rough roads and technical tight turns,” Richie says.

“The roads down in Batemans Bay were more suited for his car as it is a very fast-flowing rally, more about horsepower than suspension.

“So two completely different cars, but at the end of 137 kilometres, they couldn’t be separated.”

Although Clayton technically beat Richie, the results are only counted up to a second, so it was declared a dead heat.

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Spectators are encouraged to keep an eye out for the occasional visit from Australian rally heroes such as Canberra local Neal Bates, Peter Dimmock and Tom Dermody, who makes the trip from Brisbane almost every year.

For those interested in participating, not just as a spectator, Brett says the NSSCC is always looking for volunteers, who need not be experienced.

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