Parker surprised with Pooncarie win

After an extended leave of absence from the BFGoodrich Motorsport Australia Off Road Championship (AORC), Hank Parker couldn’t have asked for a better return.

The Queenslander entered last month’s AORC’s season opener, the Wentworth Shire Pooncarie Desert Dash, in the Production 4WD Cup and ended up coming away with a well-deserved victory.

Behind the wheel of a Toyota Land Cruiser, Parker and navigator Mark Robertson had a mega task on their hands, with 15-time class champion Geoff Pickering also making his return to the AORC after a year on the sidelines.

While Pickering and navigator Dylan Watson got off to the better start, winning Transportable Shade Sheds Prologue by eight seconds, the rest of the race belonged to Parker and Robertson.

A one-minute section one victory was followed by a dominant section two win which saw the two crews split by more than 21 minutes by the end of the event.

The victory was the perfect start to Parker’s first season back in the AORC – a result that surprised many, even himself.

“I decided that this year was the time to have a go in the AORC and we knew that it was going to be a hard weekend against someone as experienced as Geoff,” Parker said.

“My main intention was to gauge myself against him and see how good the vehicle was. Realistically, our only focus was on our own race and if ended up somewhere near him, I would have been happy.

“We ended up having a trouble-free run and our lap times were much better than Geoff’s, so we were stoked to beat him in the end.

“It did come as a bit of a surprise. He had a new vehicle, and I am sure they had dramas – they were probably still in the process of testing it to be honest, but it was good to get a win at our first time in Pooncarie.

“It was an extremely well-run event and was really professional. Everything was run the way an event should be run, which was great to see, so I am looking forward to doing more AORC events in 2024.”

Parker’s next event will be the Tatts Finke Desert Race, which surprisingly will be first time racing the famous AORC round.

Having never competed there before, the Queenslander didn’t have many expectations about replicating his season opener success with such a strong field.

“Even though I raced back in the 1980s and 1990s in a Class 8 vehicle, this year will be our first time at Finke so it’s very exciting,” Parker added.

“It will be good to finally do the event. I have been up there as a spectator multiple times, but it will be good to race there and I am really looking forward to it.

“Our plan will be to go up the week before and do some runs up and down the track to get as much preparation as we can. I have an idea what the terrain is like, but it’s different when you are going flat out.

“We want to stay consistent and not drive the wheels of the Land Cruiser, which has already proved to be reliable. We just want to finish the event – that is the goal.

“I also don’t expect to be ahead of Geoff – he will know the track better than all of us, so I don’t expect to beat him again. Although it will be interesting because I think he isn’t that much quicker.

“If it goes well, I am hoping to do Loveday and potentially Charters Towers. As I can’t make it to Kalgoorlie due to harvest season, I will need to build a big enough lead before then, which might be enough.”

The Tatts Finke Desert Race takes place between Alice Springs and the remote community of Aputula on 7-10 June.

Feature Photo: Dan Thompson