With the sun shining over the rural Queensland town of St George, a perfect weekend looms for the BFGoodrich Motorsport Australia Off Road Championship (AORC) season opener.
A bumper entry list of 96 crews are entered in this weekend’s Cobb & Co Hotel St George 399 which once again sees Australia’s best off road teams congregating in South East Queensland for what should be a busy weekend.
With the last official round of the AORC in June last year, the Tatts Finke Desert Race, it has given crews plenty of time to prepare themselves for a huge year. Some used the opportunity to switch classes, while others took the chance to upgrade or fine tune their cars.
Many of the regular faces that fans have grown accustomed to are entered in the event with the likes of Josh Howells, Beau Robinson and Greg Gartner likely to be up there contending for the top honours once again.
Although they will be fancying their chances after some big efforts in 2021, including Howells winning last year’s St George 399, the return of nine-time AORC champion Shannon Rentsch will be one of the biggest inclusions this season.
Rentsch has spent the past two years developing a new vehicle and will be revealing it this weekend at the same event he won his last AORC round back in 2019.
That same car he steered the 2019 St George 399 has changed hands multiple times since the Victorian sold it, making its way to Queensland ace Brett Comiskey before arriving with its current owner in Jake Swinglehurst.
Swinglehurst has enjoyed plenty of recent success in the a SXS Buggy, but took the chance to purchase the same Jimco that Rentsch claimed multiple national titles with in the hopes of maybe experiencing success of his own – despite having no expectations.
“It’s going to be really exciting and I am lucky enough to get a start at St George, which will be great because I think this particular car has good fortune there,” Swinglehurst said.
“Of course, I have to go in with a bit of confidence due to the calibre of car beneath me, but I am not putting any expectation on this year as there is still a lot of work to be done and we’re still a bit behind the likes of Josh Howells.
Like Swinglehurst, there are a number of individuals making their first national appearance in different class, including 2018 runner-up Toby Whateley.
Although a number of the SXS old guard has moved to more powerful units, the class remains the most popular of the lot with 36 crews entered.
While most of these crews are returning from the AORC, the addition of the KINCROME SXS Motorsport Australia Championship to the AORC means a variety of new faces will enter the fold this weekend – most notably reigning champion Stephen Henry.
Although Henry is one of many debutants this weekend, other familiar names are joining the AORC for the first time, including Australian circuit star and previous Bathurst 1000 winner Warren Luff .
Luff will be behind the wheel of Walkinshaw Performance’s VW W580X Amarok in the Production 4WD class and the Queenslander was excited for the new chapter in his life.
“This is going to be a big learning year for both the team and myself. Obviously, the Walkinshaw name is synonymous with circuit racing both in Australia and in Europe, but this is a new challenge for all of us but one we are looking forward to,” Luff said.
“For me it’s a whole new style of driving, competition and discipline to be competitive. So, I’m looking forward to learning what it takes to have success off road.”
Hosted by the South East Queensland Off Road Club, official proceedings begin early on Friday with Scrutineering taking place before Prologue run at 3:30pm AEST later in the day.
The action resumes on Saturday morning with the Top 10 shootout at 8am and the first section of two laps to run at 10am local time.
Only one section takes place on Saturday, which will see crews tackle two laps of the 90km course.
On Sunday, from 7:30am AEST, the remaining two sections will be completed with two laps of the 90km course making up the second section and just one lap making up the third and final section.
The event is also open to fans with tickets able to be purchased at the gate where spectators can watch plenty of the action unfold.
All rounds of the AORC will feature on 7mate and 7plus, with event highlights to be screened following the event. Regular event updates and highlights will be available on the AORC social media channels during the event.
The 2022 Cobb & Co Hotel St George 399 takes place in St George on 18-20 March.