Ben Barker is still the reigning king of the Bega Valley Rally.
The defending champion held on to his crown by almost two-and-a-half minutes over the Thomas Dermody-driven Ford RS1800.
The Bega driver posted the best time in four of the six stages on Sunday after blitzing through his home rounds on Bega’s Shire Roads Saturday afternoon.
Current NSW Champion Bryan Van Eck had to settle for third in his Toyota Altezza, finishing just 56 seconds back from the runner-up.
Australian Rally Champion Nathan Quinn – with Bega’s own Alexander Eadie in the navigator seat – suffered an unfortunate engine blowout on stage 10.
The pair had been running third.
Despite the upset, Quinn said he was delighted to take part.
“I’m going to say it...Bega shire stages are the best in the Southern Hemisphere,” he said on social media.
“We were only about 600m into the stage when the motor blew,” Eadie said. “It was pretty unlucky, but nonetheless [the weekend] was very enjoyable.”
It was something of an experience for the 16-year-old, who served as navigator for the ARC champion.
“Honestly, I’m speechless, it was an unbelievable experience.”
Meanwhile, Van Eck considered the Bega Valley Rally his spiritual “home track I guess you could say.”, going on to say that his parents lived in Cobargo for about 25 years.
Van Eck said the Valley Rally was one of few he would contest this year.
“These are the very best roads in Australia to compete on,” he said. “I won’t be doing many events this year because my son is in Year 12 and the focus is elsewhere, but I made sure to be here for this, it’s the best.”
President of the Sapphire Coast Sporting Car Club, Kim Boyd contested with wife Vicki in the passenger seat and said it was incredible to see the number of entries.
There were more than 20 more competitors than last year, but the Valley Rally had outshone major rally events in both Canberra and Adelaide only a week earlier.
“To get bigger numbers than those events is pretty insane,” Mr Boyd said.”It’s a great event.”
Mr Boyd and his wife were just one of a few local pairings, including David Eadie and Max Roberts, who finished 20th overall in a Toyota Celica.
Greg and Tiffany Otton were not too far behind in a middle-of-the-pack 29th place in their BMW 318i.
Mr Boyd and his wife finished 40th , while Kalaru mechanic Leigh Manning and Logan Waterhouse were racing well, but slid down the leaderboard after snapping a control arm on stage four to drop a lot of time.
Jarra Mckay-Collins got out in the early stages in his Ford Falcon, but ran into mechanical troubles, which brought his weekend to an early finish.
Rally officials said the rain earlier in the week had been a boon as it kept down a lot of dust, while some sections became boggy and provided an additional challenge for drivers.
“Pretty sure we had just the right amount of rain because the grip seemed pretty good,” Eadie said, adding the stages had been “awesome”.
“Each stage tended to have its own special feature which made it interesting and the lack of dust was helpful – it was a fantastic weekend and a great event.”
The added bonus for the Bega teen, was picking the national title holder’s brain.
“Nathan is an easy character which made for an awesome vibe in the car, we were having a cracker time and putting in some great stage times,” Eadie said.
“It was such a great learning experience.”
Quinn said facing new challenges and unknown roads was part of what he loved about rallying and Eadie said it showed, “his commitment through corners and over crests was incredible, but the real eye-opener was his ability to manipulate the car during corners”.
Despite not getting to finish, the national champion had plenty of fun.
“We had a ripper time … it will go down as an event to remember,” Quinn said.