PHOTOS: Roy Meuronen

The 2020 running of the AMH Automotive Group Rally of the Bay was a very different event to previous years. With a worldwide pandemic closing borders and restricting travel, the Rally of the Bay needed a comprehensive COVID plan in place before it could even start.

With rallying and other forms of motorsport in a forced break, the event attracted a seriously competitive field of over 80 cars.

Headlining the entry list was Toyota driver and current Australian Rally Champion Harry Bates. Not being a round of the Australian Championship, Bates should be under no pressure to perform.

The first stage was a 10.3km run along the old Princes Highway and Bates was immediately fast, setting a blistering time of 6:35.

Bates main rival would be Irishman and two-time Rally of the Bay winner, Richie Dalton, who has set his sights on three in a row.

Dalton and co-driver Dale Moscatt were also fast over the first 2 stages but couldn’t quite match the pace of the Toyota in front. After two stages they were in 3rd and needed to claw back 18 seconds to jump into the lead.

But stage 3 would spell disaster… And they were out of the event.

By the end of stage 3, Harry Bates had a commanding lead and it was the 2nd Toyota Team Yaris, piloted by Lewis Bates with Anthony McLoughlin, sitting in second outright.

Slotting into third was Victorians, Arron Windus and Daniel Brick in a newly built Subaru WRX. They were showing off some exuberant driving and after stage 3, Drury, they were 22 seconds off the lead.

Arron’s father, Darren was in forth. He was well aware that keeping in front of his son was going to be a tough ask.

Windus senior was able to hold off junior in the first two stages, but couldn’t quite match his pace in SS3, slotting in behind him, but there was just under 5 seconds between them.

Tom Clarke and Ryan Preston are once again throwing their hat in the ring for the MTA NSW Championship and started that campaign a bit slowly, the best they could manage on stage 1 was 10th.

But they quickly got back up to speed and had jumped 4 places to be in 6th after the second stage.

Clarke would make up yet another position in SS3 to be sitting in fifth place outright.

But it was a small margin, with Luke Annear and Andy Barandis in the Ford Fiesta R5 just 4 seconds behind after only 50kms of competitive distance completed.

Tony Sullens was the fastest of the 2WD cars. After 3 stages, he was seventh and revealed his plans before the event started.

JJ Hatton and Nathan Long were another pair to struggle early. They equalled the time set by Clarke in the first stage to be equal 10th. But unlike Clarke, they struggled to get quicker and were 8th outright at the end of Stage 3.

Nathan Quinn is a former NSW State and Australian Champion and also the reigning East Coast Classic Rally Series winner. He knows he’ll have a lot to do if he wants to win.

Quinn was struggling with the car and after 3 stages he had dropped back to 9th overall.

Another crew with troubles was Clayton Hoy and Erin Kelly. They were 7th on the Old Highway, but then dropped down the leader-board to be 29th after stage 3 with mechanical dramas.

Rounding out the top 10 was Chris Higgs and Daymon Nicoli in the Mitsubishi Lancer. They’re another team with their sights set on doing well in the MTA NSW series.

The first of the Classic cars was the Audi Quattro S1. Mal Keogh and Pip Bennet were also sitting 11th Outright.

There were quite a few other Classic cars in Contention for the East Coast Classic Series including Tom Dermody and Owen Moynihan in a Ford Escort RS1800, Clay Badenoch and Catriona Kelly in a Toyota Celica RA40,  Phil Thomas in another Escort, Matthew Ruggles in a TR7 and the very rarely seen Lancia 037, driven by Gerry Duyvestyn.

In the battle of the teenagers, Riley Walters in the Subaru WRX was the quickest… and remarkably, he was using the road-book and not on Pace Notes. He was also seeded way down in 47th position, so an extraordinary drive from him to be in 16th outright.

19-year-old Troy Dowell was one place behind in 17th and with experienced co-driver Bernie Webb calling the notes, he was just 1.5 seconds slower than Walters overall.

And 16-year-old Taylor Gill, in his first ever rally and with seasoned co-driver Peter Harris sitting in, were 20th and only running on 3 cylinders.

With 4 stages yet to come, anything can happen, so make sure you join us for Part 2 of our review of the AMH Automotive Group Rally of the bay.