Ben Barker, Damian Long claim Alpine Rally win

Muddy: Ben Barker and co-driver Damian Long kick up a bit of mud during a leg of the Alpine Rally over the weekend. Picture: Craig O'Brien.
Muddy: Ben Barker and co-driver Damian Long kick up a bit of mud during a leg of the Alpine Rally over the weekend. Picture: Craig O'Brien.

Former Tathra driver Ben Barker and his co-driver Damian Long (NSW) have won the Iconic and prestigious Alpine Rally. 

Held in the East Gippsland forests of Victoria, officials said the pair overcame ‘atrocious’ conditions of wind, mud and rain to win the event outright in Barker’s BMW 320i. 

Barker said his car may look classic, but is packing a fairly modern M3 engine under the hood that was custom-built by himself and his uncle. 

Barker also said it was the most fun he had in a rally car despite being a two-wheel drive. 

The pair led the event from start to finish, winning eight of the 12 stages to finish over a minute and a half clear of the Datsun Stanza of four times Australian Rally Champion Simon Evans (VIC) / Ben Searcy (WA) and Victorian duo Luke Sytema and Adam Wright in a Ford Escort RS1800. 

Based in Lakes Entrance, 125 two-wheel drive rally cars with entries from all over Australia, NZ and Ireland set out to tackle 375km of competitive forest stages. 

Barker and Long set a blistering pace from the outset, winning Friday’s two stages to lead Sytema and Wright by 10 seconds.

The forecasted heavy rain arrived on Saturday, turning the sandy stages to mud, but the pair continued to top the time sheets winning the day’s first three stages to extend their advantage to almost a minute.

Evans fought back on the sixth stage to claw back 47 seconds elevating himself from third to second and within striking distance of the BMW. 

Severe weather and deteriorating road conditions left the promoters with no choice but to cancel two of the three remaining afternoon stages.

When competition resumed late Saturday afternoon for the final 16km test of the day, Barker returned serve to Evans’ challenge with a stunning time to lead by one minute and 18 seconds going into the final day. 

While Evans and Searcy pipped Barker and Long on the opening two stages on Sunday, the event winners would seal their first Alpine success winning the final two stages in commanding fashion.

The victory was even sweeter for the pair who were forced to retire from the 2013 Alpine Rally despite leading the charge at the time.