The four round 2012 Australian Off Road Championship launched on the Sunday with the 39th running of the MBL Sea Lake Mallee Rally in north-west Victoria. In its return to the AORC, SeaLake attracted an impressive field of over 110 entries. But after 5 laps of the 85 kilometre course which loops around Lake Tyrell, it was Brad Prout in the #9 single seater Jimco that came out on top. Taking his maiden AORC round win in a time of 3:35:40.92, just 17 seconds ahead of Matt Hanson and Leigh Wells in the #7 SMU Jimco.
At the conclusion of the event, a relieved Brad Prout was happy to have finally taken his first AORC win after challenging at the front for a number of years. "It is great to finally have my first win. The track was fantastic, much better than I thought it was going to be after reconnaissance yesterday" commented Prout. "The car ran perfectly and the team did a great job, so we look forward to Goondiwindi".
Hanson and Wells had started the day 30 seconds ahead of Prout and finished the race first on the road. However earlier in the day Prout had stopped to assist fellow racer Aaron Haby, whose car had an engine bay fire and was awarded 2 minutes compassionate time, which swept him to the outright win at the end of the day. Leaving Hanson’s SMU Racing team agonizingly close to taking the outright win.
Completing the victory dais, in an event that only 36 of the original 111 entrants finished was the #178 prolite Jimco of Lindsay Foster and James Lochert. Foster had trailed Matt Owen in his Alumicraft Prolite for much of the day, but when a broken axle ended Owens chance at the podium on the final lap, Foster stepped into the lead and held off Horan to take third outright and the Prolite class win. After dicing with Foster for much of the day, Sea Lake locals Andrew McClelland & Murray Mott locked down second in the prolite class, ahead of the single seater of Rob Cowie in third.
In their first race on Australian soil, the Auckland based team of Raana Horan and Mike Connor charged from 11th on the grid to fourth outright, in the Big Black Motorsport V8 Nissan Titan. The Kiwi’s were also rewarded with the Extreme 4WD Class win, finishing 8 minutes ahead of Clayton Chapmans Pajero and Sandy Bowmans 6 litre V8 GQ Patrol.
The Production 4WD class win went to Rob Chapman and Ross Challacombe n the Chapman Motorsport Triton ute, with Victorians Synon Peers & Dan Schiller next best, completing the four laps for the Victorian Off Road Championship.
Early Super 1650 pace-setters Alistair & Andrew McClelland were looking to put their local knowledge to good use, however front end failure put an early end to their day. Their closest challenger, Peter & Jake Stevenson retired after a roll-over, leaving the ever-consistent Darryl Smith & Michael Matthews in the #201 Choices Alumicraft to finish the event first in class and nineteenth outright. Taking second in class in the ex-Matt Owen Cougar was the Queensland entry of Russell & Judy Hartnett. Finishing just 1:34 behind Hartnett was the #202 Razorback of Jared Melville & Michael Marson.
The sole Australian Off Road Championship entry in the Sportsman class was reigning 2011 champion Murray England with son Jake in the navigators seat. Unfortunately it would not be a happy day for the team, with front end failure ending their charge on lap three. This left Victorians Dean Williams & Scott McInnes, competing in the Victorian Off Road Championship component of the event to take the Sportsman class victory in their Southern Cross, ahead of the fastest qualifiers in their class, Glenn & Rohan Hollis. Laurie and Steven Penpraze taking third.
Looking to start their quest to regain the #401 plate, former Extreme 2WD Australian Champions, Chris Western & Stewy Bishop in the #402 Mickey Thomson Rush Truck made the perfect start to their campaign, taking the class win and sixth position outright. South Australians John & David Schultz brought home their Bennett-built truck to finish approximately nine minutes behind the Rush Truck, and Des Harrington finished third in class in the Tambry truck.
After being the early pace-setters in the Performance 2WD class, locals Bernie Clohesy & Kim Stacey had their day end prematurely when the torque convertor on the Triton failed. As the rest of the field also withdrew with mechanical issues, the South Australian team of Scott Gould & Matt Heywood in their Chev-powered Holden were the only Performance 2WD competitors to make the full distance, a great show of reliability and speed.
Teams now return to their home base to prepare for round two of the Australian Off Road Championship, the Albins Off Road Gear Goondiwindi 400. Held from the 3rd-5th of August the event has been switched from its traditional October date, in an attempt to avoid the heavy rain and flooding which has plagued the race in recent years.