Australian Rally History

by Tom Snooks

1985 Australian Rally Championship

1985 Australian Rally Champions – Barry Lowe, Kevin Pedder and Subaru RX Turbo
1985 Australian Rally Champions – Barry Lowe, Kevin Pedder and Subaru RX Turbo

1985 CAMS AUSTRALIAN RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

1985 was the first year that the new Group A (PRC) category gained real support and credibility and the first time that a Group A car and crew took off the national championship – thanks mostly to the efforts of a lone manufacturer, Subaru, for getting the ball rolling. Subaru imported a batch of four-wheel-drive RX Turbo sedans and provided them at a subsidised price to some top privateers.

Barry Lowe/Kevin Pedder, from South Australia, took the plunge in taking on a Subaru (Pedders sponsored) and went on the win the series in the last of six rounds, leading from Hugh Bell/Steve Ellis in the also Pedders sponsorship Group G Mazda RX7 by three championship points.

Mazda started an association with the sport by providing a Mazda RX7 for Queensland’s Gregg Hansford/Dale Payne. Their best result for the year was a second in their home round, mixed with a series of did-not-finishes, but Mazda was happy enough with the exposure to think about doing what Subaru did, by using the 323 4WD in 1986. The company’s enthusiasm was also ignited by a sparkling win in the Queensland round by Murray Coote/Iain Stewart in a 323 4WD, ahead of Hansford.

1985 also saw the lack of big name drivers from previous years. Greg Carr had only two starts in borrowed cars for two failures, George Fury made one appearance in South Australia, and there was no sign at all of Geoff Portman nor defending champion David Officer.

Hugh Bell was favoured to win but, although his driving matured enormously to enable him to stay on the road and finish most events, he had offs in the RX7 in Queensland and in South Australia which cost him time, and as he elected not to go to Perth, he was overtaken by Barry Lowe’s consistent outright and Group A results. Although Bell won three events to Lowe’s one he didn’t quite do enough to take victory.

Ron Cremen and Wayne Bell provided some variety with their Toyota Corolla GT’s. Cremen, with Ray Temple, placed three times in the top ten and Bell, with Dave Boddy, showed that the Subarus could be beaten by producing some quick times but he was always struck by problems just when he seemed on course for a Group A victory.

The only driver to really arrive at the top level in 1985 was Tasmanian Andrew Murfett, with Pip Welch, who did well in an elderly Mazda RX2 and made his presence felt as a top contender, crashing in Perth when he was in the lead.

Although the year provided some close and varied competition it was as difficult and disappointing as any in recent years. Two events were cancelled, there were trouble with others, and although Subaru was present there were not enough Group A cars to provide a viable championship once the Group G cars became ineligible for national championship points, as was being suggested by CAMS.

There eventually were six events in the series, with South Australia returning to Adelaide after a five-year absence and this meant there would be a round in each state for the first time. Tasmania provided the opener and was the most popular event of the year, Bathurst withdrew and was replaced by the returning Bega Valley Rally, and the Alpine Rally also withdrew, replaced by the Akademos, which was badly affected by wet weather and was shortened beyond any reasonable competitive length, but it still counted for championship points.

Both the Queensland and South Australian rounds fell short of the standard required for a national event, the former badly affected by rain and the latter by accusation of jumped starts, shortcutting and pacenotes.

One issue arose during the year – whether to allow pacenoting. The events in South Australia and Victoria raised the question in supposedly ‘secret’ course events and whether events are to be open to such activity.

1985 CAMS AUSTRALIAN RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

This document includes the summary, details of SIX rounds of the 1985 ARC and is 8 pages in length. 

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