How to win the 399

The 2021 BFGoodrich Motorsport Australia Off Road Championship (AORC) gets underway this weekend with the highly anticipated Cobb & Co Hotel St George 399.

With 94 crews do battle in the season opener, the competition will be fierce.

A strong start in the championship is important for every crew as it creates the foundations for a charge towards the title, although with five rounds instead of three this year, crews will be more focused on banking as many points as they can.

The beauty about the first round of a championship is that it isn’t always as straightforward as it should be. Crews are often using the event to dust off the cobwebs or get used to their new cars or new parts.

And almost always, there is one car who comes out of nowhere to get right into the mix for the event. In 2018, It was Toby Whateley and in 2019 it was Steven Graham.

But with only two crews having won the event since its debut in 2017, how difficult is it actually to win the event?

Having won the first ever edition of back in 2017, West Australian Travis Robinson qualified first and managed to get a good run to the finish line, putting on a commanding performance.

And while he believes Prologue is incredibly important, it’s not always the be all or end all if you are going into the race with a good strategy.

“It’s a dusty event so in 2017 we made sure that we qualified first,” Robinson said.

‘It’s important to get first in Prologue because then you obviously have a good clean run and can really get some good times. We did that in 2017 and that’s what got us the win.

“With that said, the first car will eventually hit the back markers a few laps in, so if you were one of the cars behind, it’s crucial that you go just as fast on the opening sections.

“If you can time your run well on the first two sections, you’ll be right back in it by the final section. The key is not necessarily passing the leader on those opening sections, more just focusing on putting in better times, because they will slow down when trying to pass the slower competitors.

“Even if you do manage to close the gap, the backmarkers will always know there are more cars passing once the first car goes through, making it easier for you.”

And while the record number of crews will be keen for a strong start to the championship, Robinson, who finished fifth in 2017 after disappointing outings in Finke and Rainbow, revealed that a relaxed attitude is what ultimately got him the win in Queensland.

“Attrition is a big thing, as it’s the first race of the year. There is nothing wrong with taking it easy and seeing where you end up,” Robinson added.
“A lot of people get caught up in going too hard too early, but as it’s off road, it’s more important to get points.

“Especially with Finke as the next race, you want to have a full round in St George and go the whole distance, regardless of where you finish up. It’s important to get good seat time.

“In 2017, we weren’t trying to win, more just cruising. But because we knew the tactics of some of the other top contenders, we made sure we didn’t get out-hustled and just played the game in the dust. It was a good weekend.”

With Robinson and the winner of 2018 and 2019 in Shannon Rentsch both missing this weekend, a new driver is certain to claim top honours in the first round – setting up a huge year ahead.

The Cobb & Co St George 399 takes place in St George Queensland on 19-21 March.

Photos: Alan McIntosh