It’s been almost two years since the Cobb & Co Hotel St George 399 last ran, so the average off road fan would be forgiven for not remembering how it all went down in 2019.
Taking place in April, the South East Queensland Off Road Racing Association (SEQORRA) run event was acting as the BFGoodrich Motorsport Australia Off Road Championship season opener for the third time – an event which had already seen plenty of memorable moments from the previous two years.
Only one year before, Toby Whateley emerged as a contender for the championship and made history as he became the first driver to steer a SXS Turbo to an AORC section win.
While he wasn’t able to hold off eventual AORC champions Shannon and Ian Rentsch from ultimately taking out the event, Whateley still led the championship at the end of the round.
Fast forward 12 months to 2019 where all eyes were again on Whateley and Rentsch to see who would get the better start out of the two crews.
They didn’t have to wait long though as the reigning AORC champion began his title defence with a commanding Prologue win, while Whateley struggled to find rhythm and just squeezing in the top 10.
Interestingly, it was another young gun who would end up turning heads with his qualifying performance – Josh Howells producing a time that would see him start just behind Rentsch and in front a number of the championship’s stars, including Beau Robinson, Greg Gartner and Mark Burrows.
When it came to the event’s first section later that day, Rentsch took full advantage of a dust free run to end day one with a solid two and half minute lead over one of those stars in Gartner.
Unfortunately for Howells and Robinson, they had an afternoon to forget as they both failed to finish the first heat and their events came to a premature end.
That same day also saw Whatley confirm his status as ‘Mr First Section’ as he moved up six places and finished the day in third place at the expense of Jason Richards, Glen Towers and of course, Burrows.
On Sunday morning, the Rentschs continued on their merry way at the front of the field, further extending their lead as Gartner fell down the field and effectively out of contention.
With Howells, Robinson and Gartner all dropping out of the race, it was left up to the likes of Burrows, Whatley and an unfamiliar face in Steven Graham to try and chase down the leaders after posting respectable times in the section.
But with Rentsch on his own at the front of the pack, it was always going to be a tall order on the final section and unsurprisingly, the 2018 champions enjoyed a wonderful start to their title defence with an 11 minute victory.
Though there was no doubt about the winners, the final section provided a thrilling conclusion for the minor placings as just three hundredths of a second separated Burrows and Graham on the time sheets with Whateley a further 16 seconds behind.
Following the event’s final section, one thing was clear and the rest remained a mystery, Rentsch had won the event convincingly, but there was very little between the three drivers.
Eventually, Burrows was announced as the runner-up and Whatley was deemed in third place. Despite just missing out on a podium, Graham had impressed throughout the weekend, as did Glen Towers who rounded out the top five.
With Shannon and Ian Rentsch’s new car not yet ready, and 2017 St George 399 winner Travis Robinson also out, the event will have a new crew standing on the top step on Sunday evening.
The Cobb & Co Hotel St George 399 takes place in St George, Queensland, on 19-21 March.
The Top 10
1. Shannon Rentsch – Pro Buggy
2. Mark Burrows – Pro Buggy
3. Toby Whateley – SXS Turbo
4. Steven Graham – Sports Lite
5. Glen Towers – Pro Buggy
6. Greg Gartner – Extreme 2WD
7. Allen Henson – SXS Turbo
8. David Spokes – Pro Buggy
9. Jeff McNiven – SXS Turbo
10. Rohan Williams – SXS Turbo
Pro Buggy – Shannon Rentsch
Pro Lite – Craig Pankhurst
SXS Turbo – Toby Whateley
SXS Sport – Rick Chambers
Extreme 2WD – Greg Gartner
Extreme 4WD – Christian Trusz
Production 2WD – Andrew Barber
Production 4WD – Geoff Pickering
Super 1650 – Hans Werner Zettl
Photos: Terry Hill Photography