Round 1 Of the BF Goodrich Tyres Australian Offroad Racing Championships, held in the Queensland outback town of St George 490 km west of Brisbane over the Labour Day long weekend, was from the outset going to be a great weekend. Trent Challenger, the local baker and his team, had been working hard over the previous months to revamp the track from last year, extending it by some 12 kilometers making it now a 41 kilometer course, and redesigning many parts of it. With competitor numbers up about 50% from last year to 63, in dry dusty conditions the stage was set. The weather played its part and was sensational, clear skies Saturday morning and a chill start of 3 degrees. Prologue got underway around 8am and the contestants were eager. Returning 8 times champion Shannon Rentsch was out to dominate but was going to receive some stiff competition from Matt Hanson and Toby Whateley, with Josh Howells in there with a fighting chance also.
Matt Hanson took the honours for Prologue, with Shannon 4 seconds behind, an impressive drive for his first time on this track; Toby another 23 seconds behind Shannon to round out the top 3.
Results after heat one had Alan Dixon and Johnny O’Connor in the Money Box Racing Prolite in the lead, however these results were about to become null and void as the SXS turbos took to the track and Toby Whateley set a blistering pace to take a historic section win. A number of competitors including Shannon Rentsch, Josh Howells and Tait Svenson were allocated time back after stopping to assist Anthony Jones’s Peugeot 207 Extreme 4WD after it caught fire.
Matt Hanson suffered a flat tire costing him time that he didn’t have and dropping him down the order to 11th place. So at the end of the first section the overall first three positions were held by Toby Whateley, Phil Lovett, and Peter Carr all in SXS vehicles, with Shannon Rentsch in fourth.
Section 1 Top Ten – St George 399
1. #621 Toby Whateley/Simon Herrmann 1:26:28.668
2. #697 Phil Lovett/Paul Guenthen 1:27:28.736 (+1:00.068)
3. #698 Peter Carr/Mathew Wyndham 1:28:19.504 (+1:50.836)
4. #33 Shannon Rentsch/Ian Rentsch 1:30:06.203 (+3:37.535)
5. #15 Josh Howells/Bryan Erskine 1:30:08.719 (+3:40.051)
6. #603 Jeff McNiven/Andrew Reid 1:30:14.534 (+3:45.866)
7. #153 Alan Dixon/Johnny O’Connor 1:30:21.975 (+3:53.307)
8. #118 Tait Svenson Chris Affoo 1:31:04.230 (+4:35.562)
9. #601 Greg Campbell 1:31:56.350 (+5:27.682)
10. #131 Chris Browning 1:32:02.151 (+5:33.483)
Sunday Morning racing kicked off early at around 7.30am with the slower vehicles running first for heat 1.
By the time Heat 2 began the track was well and truly drying out and the dust surely billowing just to make everyone’s race a little more complicated.
Matt Hanson clawed his way up to 4th by the end of the Heat but didn’t have enough pace to reach the leaders; Toby Whateley was still out front breathing clean air ahead of Shannon. So by the end of the Heat It was Toby was still out front by over 2 minutes.
All drivers had a 1 hour service time break before heading out to start the final section of another 3 laps
Toby headed out first but Shannon wasn’t going to just let him have the race and managed to get by him on lap 1 and with clear air in front of him set about trying to make up the now over 3 minute gap Whateley had extended.
Whateley was looking good to take the win even with the pace Shannon was setting until a fuel pump issue caused him to slow allowing Shannon the precious time needed to clinch the win.
Overall Winners Shannon and Ian Rentsch, Second Toby Whateley and Simon Herrmann, Third Phil Lovett and Paul Guenthen
All in all a sensational weekend of Dust, noise, and racing excitement in the outback. An awesome effort by the organisers getting the track prepared and the event up and running. The remainder of the Championship promises to be thrilling to watch as it plays out. The Championship moves to Finke for the Finke Desert Race on the 9th – 11th June for round 2 .
Words By Lorne Close. Images by Lorne Close and Terry Hill