Nine local crews are among the 65 who will take on each other and the forest roads of the region at this weekend’s Bega Valley Rally.
Australian Rally Champions Neal Bates and Nathan Quinn will join Wallagoot local and ex-Toyota rally driver Ben Barker as headliners, with Barker seeded first after two consecutive wins in 2017 and 2018.
President of the Sapphire Coast Sporting Car Club, Kim Boyd expects the pro teams to top out at around 200 km/h on the 230 km of competitive forestry roads around Bega and Eden.
But Barker has a decidedly low-key take on the kinds of speeds needed to win.
“We might reach 200 if we have to but it’s really more like 160-170,” he downplays, as though 170 km/hr is akin to cruising through a school zone.
Barker’s racing career spans 15 years and includes the Australian Rally Team, driving for Toyota before moving back to the Bega Valley to take over his family’s earthmoving business and raise his three kids.
Now he, like the eight other local teams competing in the rally this long weekend, races for the love of it and for a bit of fun.
Kim Boyd and his wife, Vicki, take part in two or three rallies a year, with Kim driving and Vicki navigating.
“We’ve got some drivers of note this year,” says Kim with a laugh “and then you’ve got hackers like me and Vicki sliding around in the back. The speeds you hit are limited by your ability.”
So, what about the inevitable spills along the way?
Barker says that because of the nature of the safety equipment used now, he’s never been badly hurt racing beyond “a bit of a concussion.”
“The cars are a lot safer than what we drive on the road, just the amount of roll gear they have and we wear a six-point harness seatbelt so you’re strapped in pretty well.”
Asked if he drives differently after a crash, Barker says drily: “It depends on who’s paying for it – when I was driving for Toyota I didn’t mind so much.”
Now that taking care of the panel beating bills on his 1983 BMW E30 are his responsibility, Barker says he will drive accordingly.
Kim, Vicki and a well-oiled team of volunteers keep the event ticking along and even though many of the committee members who remember the first Bega Valley Rally in the 1960’s no longer race themselves, they still love being part of the event.
“There’s a lot of us who love the sport, but mostly I think we do it for the camaraderie,” Kim says “it’s a good bunch of people.”
There are five spectator points throughout the rally – three on Saturday and two on Sunday, with several opportunities to meet the drivers and see the cars.
Rally officials warn that motor racing can be dangerous and to follow the directions carefully, heed official warnings and arrive early at spectator points.
The Rally kick’s off at the Bega Showground on Saturday, with the first cars flagged off at 1 pm and returning to the showground from 2:25 pm after completing three stages. Get there early to meet the drivers.
Stage four takes place on Sunday between Bega and Boydtown, south of Eden. Park at The Seahorse Inn before the first car arrives at 4:05 pm. There will be a 30-minute break for cars and drivers and spectators can see the service crews in action carrying out repairs. Food and drinks will be available to purchase.
Another spectator point, known only as Wombat will take you into the forest. From the Seahorse Inn at Boydtown, return to the highway and turn left, continue for 11 km and turn right onto Burrawang Road, a gravel road. Follow Burrawang Road for 750 metres, turn your car around and park on the left. The first car is due at 6 pm, arrive early to secure your spot.
On Sunday, the first car is due to arrive at point 4, Mountain Road, at 11:40 am.
To get to the Mountain Road spectator point, turn left onto the Princes Hwy from the Seahorse Inn. Continue for 20.6 km and then turn left onto Ireland-Timms Rd, a gravel road. Follow this road for approximately 2.5 km and turn your car around and park on the left.
The final spectator point on Sunday is the Reverse Wombat, with cars arriving at 1:10 pm.
To get there, turn left on the Princes Highway from The Seahorse Inn and continue for 11 km before turning right on Burrawang Road, a gravel road. Continue on Burrawang Road for 750 meters and turn your car around and park on the left.