New division for Australian Safari Rally

TUESDAY, MARCH 13: A new 3,700km rally for cars and lightweight four-wheel-drive vehicles has been established as part of this year's Australian Safari international cross country event in the Northern Territory. The rally will be one of three...

TUESDAY, MARCH 13: A new 3,700km rally for cars and lightweight four-wheel-drive vehicles has been established as part of this year's Australian Safari international cross country event in the Northern Territory.

The rally will be one of three divisions in the Safari from August 19-26, along with motorcycles, and off-road four-wheel-drive vehicles which have contested the event since its inception in 1985.

Safari Competition Director Bob Carpenter said that while all three divisions would compete from Alice Springs to Darwin, the rally would be staged over a different course.

"Everyone will start and finish at the same place each day, but the rally course is less demanding and will be confined to station tracks and roads which have a day-to-day use," he said.

"We are mindful of the technical capabilities of vehicles that enter the rally, so the course will not have the rocky terrain and wet-river crossings other Safari competitors have to contend with."

The rally division course will have 1,350km of competitive stages, approximately 36-percent of the total distance.

By comparison, the motorcycles and off-road four-wheels-drive divisions in the Safari will cover a total of 4,300km, with 65-percent of that distance in competitive stages.

The Safari's rally division will have five classes; two of them for historic vehicles, plus two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive cars, and lightweight four-wheel-drive machines.

Carpenter said it was expected the outright winner of the rally division would probably come from the classes for two and four-wheel drive cars.

He said those classes would be open to vehicles which contested the Production Rally Car (PRC) and Group N categories in the Australian Rally Championship.

"These cars will include a mix of Holden Commodores, Ford Falcons, and utes in the two-wheel-drive class, plus Audi Quattros, Subaru WRX, and the Evo Lancers in the four-wheel-drives," he said.

Carpenter said the class for lightweight four-wheel-drive vehicles offered cost-effective participation in the rally division because of regulations which limited modifications.

Vehicles eligible in the class include the Holden/Isuzu Frontera, Kia Sportage, Nissan Terrano, Land Rover Freelander, and Subaru Forrester.

"We've set the regulations so that people can get into the rally in these 'showroom' recreational vehicles for as little as $1,000, mostly spent on belts and the roll cage," he said.

Craig Fletcher, Motorsports Manager for Safari promoters Octagon, said the rally division would add a new dimension to the event.

"The Safari holds a unique position in Australian motorsport, and the rally division opens up the opportunity for many more people to take part in the challenge against some of the country's most spectacular scenery," he said.

"We have designed the regulations to cater for everyone from the serious competitor racing PRC and Group N cars at national championship level, to the enthusiast with a limited budget who is keen to get out there and have a go."

Fletcher said the addition of the rally division to the Safari had the full support of the Northern Territory Government, who are backing the event for a third successive year.

The motorcycle division of this year's Safari has been upgraded as the fourth round of the Federation Internationale Motocycliste (FIM) Cross Country Rallies World Cup series. Entries in the motorcycle division of the 2000 Safari included former 500cc road racing world champion Kevin Schwantz of the United States.

2001 AUSTRALIAN SAFARI RALLY DIVISION CLASSES:

GROUP 1:
Historic Rally Cars built up to December 31, 1967. Modifications in accordance with CAMS Historic Cars regulations

GROUP 2:
Historic Rally Cars built from January 1, 1968, to December 31, 1975. Modifications in accordance with CAMS Historic Cars regulations

GROUP 3:
Two-wheel-drive rally cars, wagons, and utilities, plus Production Rally Cars (PRC) and Group N Rally Cars. Modifications as specified in these regulations

GROUP 4:
Four-wheel-drive rally cars, wagons, plus Production Rally Cars (PRC) and Group N Rally Cars. Modifications as specified in these regulations

GROUP 5:
'Showroom' lightweight four-wheel-drive recreational vehicles. Lightweight family 4x4 privately entered vehicles, limited modifications as specified in regulations

NOTE: Australian Safari promoter Octagon Worldwide is the sports marketing and entertainment division of the Interpublic Group, one of the world's largest advertising and marketing communications groups. Octagon Worldwide's other motorsport events in Australia for 2001 include the Grand Prix Rally in Victoria from February 24-28, and the Targa Tasmania tarmac rally from April 18-24.

-Mike Porter

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Series CAMS , Cross-Country Rally