Revved up and ready to go
Brendan Reeves in the first leg of the 2014 Australian Rally Championship. Picture: Stuart Bowes

_THE CREAM _of Australia's rally, side-by-side and moto competitors are back in WA and raring to go as they descend upon our stunning South West and this year's Quit Forest Rally, starting on Friday.

The three-day event is an upbeat feast for motorsport fans as these amazing men and women - champions all - face challenges designed to test their skills to the limit, and to play merry hell with their shortcomings.

As many as 70 crews go into battle in this contest, which is the second round of the East Coast Bullbars Australian Rally Championship. It fires up with the Trade Hire super special stages, under lights around the Busselton foreshore, as a prelude to the charge through the forests of nearby Nannup.

Brother-and-sister combo Brendan Reeves and Rhianon Gelsomino head into QFR with a strong lead over their ARC rivals after impressive wins in last month's National Rally of Canberra.

But the dynamic Victorian pair still have to face the trials, traumas and tribulations of WA rallying and a decided battle ahead if they hope to score here.

This is the second year ARC crews compete in two-wheel-drive vehicles, which has proved a smart move by the organisers with the return of strong manufacturers such as Citroen.

"Only two years into the new championship make-up and the ARC winner could come from a choice of seven different makes of car, which will lead to some very competitive racing out in the forest," QFR clerk of course Ross Tapper said.

"Brendan and Rhianon have already shown that the Mazda2 is a much stronger vehicle than the one they've driven in previous years. And the introduction of two Citroens has already shown results, with Adrian Coppin and Tim Batten currently equal second."

Joining the Mazda2 and Citroens in the ARC field are Renault, Nissan, Ford and Volkswagen.

"With new cars come new challenges for the teams and drivers and, when you add the unique ball-bearing roads of Western Australia to the mix, there's the promise of plenty of action to catch during the weekend," Tapper said.

Two WA competitors step up to the outright category, with Razvan Vlad returning in his Ford Fiesta ST and Sean Keating running the S13 Nissan Silvia.

In the 4WD National Rally series an exceptionally strong turnout of local competitors will vie for the victory, with local gun Tom Wilde leading the charge in his Mitsubishi Evo 9, followed by rally veteran Leigh Hynes' Subaru Impreza WRX.

Nannup's Wilde was good enough to stand on the 2013 ARC podium and leads a strong field this year. This year he has stepped aside from the ARC, turning instead his considerable talents towards the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship. Hynes is up against frequent event podium finishers Dylan King, Doug Tostevin and John O'Dowd.

The East Coast Bullbars four- wheel-drive category promises to be as competitive as the ARC field, with eight crews vying for outright victory in their Mitsubishis and Subarus.

The side-by-side challenge makes a welcome return to WA, with favourites Michael Guest in his Can-Am Maverick 1000 X RS and Cody Crocker's Polaris RZR 900. But if either frontrunner hits trouble the capable trio of Nathan Chivers and WA's Alan Grier and Dylan Minear are ready to pounce.

The Moto class features leading two-wheel competitors, traversing the same course as the leading four-wheel crews. KTM factory rider Ben Grabham, from NSW, is the first out of the gate followed by nine riders, all from WA, including lone female Hanna Drury on a Yamaha WR450F.

The action gets under way with the 16km Trade Hire Busselton Super Special Stage, run twice on the Busselton waterfront, on Friday evening. Drivers then face 17 challenging stages on Saturday and Sunday before a champagne finish in the main street of Nannup.

The event heralds the opening round of the 2014 WA Rally Championship and WA Clubman Cup series, with some of the most competitive fields yet for the 30th running of this extraordinary contest.

The West Australian

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