Don’t be fooled by the classic look of Ben Barker’s BMW contesting the Bega Valley Rally next month.
It’s hiding a modern 280 horsepower BMW M3 engine and fully customised suspension and brake set up that was developed and tested “at home” by the former Tathra racer.
A professional rally driver in the Australian Rally Championship for Toyota over three years in the early 2000s, Barker is hailed as the Valley’s best bet for a home-grown winner of the return event on the June long weekend.
Barker said he didn’t think the “home-field advantage” would count for much in a rallying situation, but was extremely excited to see stages back in Bega and competition on the Shire Roads.
“That’s really the crux of the rally coming back, is bringing it back to Bega – really it’s good for the town and it’s good to see the two stages on the Shire Roads,” Barker said.
“That’s not to say I don’t like the Eden stuff, when I’ve competed away everyone says we have some of the best roads in Australia and we do.
“But it’s unreal to bring it home to Bega and I’m extremely excited to contest those couple of stages.”
The Valley Rally has not run in Bega in about a decade and has even been absent from Eden’s forestry roads for almost five years.
Organisers had worked hard to bring the event back last year, but devastating storms and flooding left parts of the stages either missing entirely or in states of disrepair.
Officials doubled their resolve and are finalising the checks and balances for hosting the event on the June long weekend.
“The biggest thing to get out there is that it’s good for the town,” he said.
“It may lack a few entries this year because I think this year will be a proving ground of sorts
“But you could get 50 teams or more and if it goes ahead then we’ll see even more back next year.”
So it means even more to the ex-Bega driver to see the rally fight to come back again and return to its home where the event was born almost 60 years ago in the late 60s.
The BMW harks back to those days with a classic shell, built around the beating heart of a red-blooded racer.
Barker said he and his uncle, Pip, built the BMW together in about 2010 and had been contesting classic rally stages ever since.
“Back when I was driving professionally it was all four-wheel-drive, but I can tell you this rear-wheel drive BMW is about the best fun I’ve ever had in a rally car,” he said.
Another Bega driver in Beau Griggs, who used to race a Subaru Impreza, will act as co-driver. “Beau is going to co-drive for me, it’s a first time partnership for us, but I’m sure we’ll have a few laughs,” Barker said.