The outright BFGoodrich Motorsport Australia Off Road Championship (AORC) title was one of the most exciting battles in recent times, but there were also a number of classes that proved just as entertaining.
One of those was the Prolite class, as Ally Howells claimed a well-deserved maiden title alongside first-year co-driver Sarah Corrigan.
After an intense year, Howells ended up taking out the title over Mel Brandle by the narrow margin of 22.5 points, while Corrigan had a more convincing win over Liam Brandle in the co-drivers class battle.
Despite only competing in five of the six rounds and not recording a class victory at any event, Howells and Corrigan’s consistency over the course of the year was enough to hold off the Brandles after the latter retired prematurely in the season finale.
Rounding out the class podium were Glen Collis and co-driver Jason Hample – with the New South Welshman finishing quite a way off the front two.
How it happened…
The first round of the year saw only three competitors tackle the Cobb and Co Hotel St George 399, with Michael Spokes taking out the class win over Howells and Brendan Turner.
Repeating his efforts from 2021, Spokes led fellow Prolite crews in all three sections and finished fourth in the overall placings, while Howells enjoyed a career-high sixth place outright.
It was a close finish in the Coomealla Memorial Club and Bendigo Bank Pooncarie Desert Dash as Brandle claimed the first of his three victories for the 2022 season.
Symbolic of the season, Brandle and Howells were neck and neck throughout both days of the event, with the South Australian eventually taking out the win by just over a minute.
In his grand return to the AORC, 2018 Prolite Alan Dixon and John O’Connor rounded out the podium.
As expected, the Tatts Finke Desert Race had the largest field for the year as eight Prolite Buggy crews were entered in the iconic event.
Claiming victory were Brett Martin and Andre De Simone, and the duo not only dominated the class by taking home the win, but also finished on the outright podium in third.
The next best crew was Jason and Kirsty Richards, who finished 11th in the outright standings, while Brandle’s third place saw him claim valuable points.
Brandle’s second victory came in the succeeding round at the Can Am Loveday 400 where he produced a career-best result on home soil to finish fourth outright.
Brandle ended up finishing eight minutes ahead of Howells, who notched up her second top 10 for the year with ninth overall and second in class.
Despite recording competitive times throughout the weekend, a difficult section three ended Collis and Hample’s hopes of a solid result, with the crew finishing over 19 minutes behind the section winner.
Brandle made it two in a row after recording another class win in the shortened Hindmarsh Shire Rainbow Desert Enduro, beating 2019 AORC champion co-driver Matthew Burrows by just one minute.
It was a tough outing for Howells and Corrigan, who had an opening section to forget, however they still finished what ended up their final event of the year fourth in class.
With Howells and Corrigan not entered in the Black Diamond Drilling Kalgoorlie Desert Race, outright title contender Brandle had the opportunity to secure the class title.
In an extremely competitive and challenging event, it was Mark and Jessica Jarrett who won class honours in the pair’s first and only event for the year.
Luke Erceg and Daniel Ziembinski finished the final race in second position despite being faster in the first two sections, while George Metaxas and Brett Nathan Mortimer rounded out the class podium two minutes adrift of Erceg and Ziembinsk.
Unfortunately for Brandle, hope of a maiden national class title took a massive hit after he failed to take part in section two of the event before a DNF in the final section all but ended his aspirations – ultimately handing the Prolite Buggy class title to Howells and Corrigan.
What she said.
“It was really good [to win] it was a bit of a shock, especially not attending the last round in Kalgoorlie we weren’t sure how the points system was going to change” Howells said.
“Leaving round five and Rainbow the way we did, we sort of just forfeited because we weren’t going to go to Kalgoorlie. Knowing that Mel was going and being such a great driver and super consistent we had no expectation at all.
“I would really like to thank my dad, because without him none of this is possible.
“There is no such thing as Howells Motorsport without him and the amount of hours, time and dedication he gives to the team and my brother and I is just something else.”
Prolite Buggy Driver Standings
1. Ally Howells – 2311.5 points
2. Mel Brandle – 2289 points
3. Glen Collis – 1308 points
4. Mark Jarrett – 870 points
5. Luke Erceg – 870 points
6. George Metaxas – 810 points
7. Michael Spokes – 630 points
8. Brett Martin – 630 points
9. Matthew Burrows – 628 points
10. Jason Richards – 570 points
Prolite Buggy Co-Driver Standings
1. Sarah Corrigan – 2311.5 points
2. Liam Brandle – 1659 points
3. Jason Hample – 1308 points
4. Jessica Jarrett – 870 points
5. Daniel Ziembinski – 870 points
6. Brett Nathan Mortimer – 810 points
7. Brad Rogan – 630 points
8. Andre De Simone – 630 points
9. Melissa Brandle – 630 points
10. Kristy Richards – 570 points
Feature Photo: Gears and Wheels Photography