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PHOTO: Absolute beginner Adam Bensch (right), mentored by experienced co-driver Darren Masters, finished Rally Australia and truly had the Drive of a Lifetime (John Doutch pic)

DREAMS can come true, according to a Deniliquin concreter who won a competition that turned his aim of becoming a rally driver into reality.

Adam Bensch, 31, spent last weekend on the Coffs Coast competing at the sport’s ultimate level, the FIA World Rally Championship, courtesy of the $50,000 ‘Drive of a Lifetime at Coates Hire Rally Australia’ competition.

Having started as an absolute rookie in the sport, Bensch finished a credible 10th of 17 cars entered in the 4WD category of the East Coast Bullbars Australian Rally Championship, which was run as part of the world championship round. He competed on the same roads as Volkswagen star Sébastien Ogier, who won his third WRC crown at the event.

“I think I’m suffering post-rally blues,” laughed Bensch, speaking the day after his return from Coates Hire Rally Australia at Coffs Harbour.

“It was a dream to win the competition, then I got up there and had a big couple of days and now it seems like a dream that it actually happened, but it was absolutely incredible.”

After doing some extra driver training with RallySchool, which had run the competition, Bensch and professional co-driver Darren Masters came up with what they hoped would be a fool-proof plan for the three-day event (September 11-13): take it slow and steady the first few runs until the ‘rookie’ got the hang of the pace notes and what both he and Masters were supposed to be doing.

As it all started to make sense, Bensch picked up the pace.

“On Day Two, it was all coming together and then I went straight ahead at a junction, where I should have turned left. I had to do a ‘u-ey’ to get going in the right direction.

“It wouldn’t have been so bad except it was right in front of a spectator point. My wife, all the guys from RallySchool and several thousand spectators saw me make the mistake and of course there were commentators there too, talking about what I was doing. Just a bit embarrassing!” he laughed.

Bensch had a couple more near misses along the way, but came home triumphant after 17 competitive stages totalling 311km, including posting the fifth fastest time in his category on the last stage of the event – in front of another posse of spectators.

“I definitely felt more relaxed and was driving better and faster as the weekend wore on. One of the best things that happened was meeting [four-time Australian champion] Simon Evans. I’ve followed his career for years so it was fantastic to meet him and have a chat.

“He gave me so many good tips and I know that helped me improve. I’d like to think I was able to put a lot of his advice into practice.”

For now, it’s back to work, but Bensch is already thinking ahead. The next step is to buy a rally car and do some more competing … and he hopes one day to go back to Rally Australia and share the Coffs Coast roads with the world’s best. At this point, 2017 looks more promising than next year. First he needs to polish his skills and save some money.

“I’ve bought cars in the past with the aim of doing some rallying, but never really had the time or money to do them up. I have a Datsun 180B at the moment, but I’m now thinking about a Subaru WRX or a Mitsubishi Evo. I think it will be cheaper overall to work with a newer car, he said.

“I’ll do some club motorsport first and then see if I can do some State-level rallying. Who knows what might happen, but I am definitely keen to do some more.

“It was an amazing adventure, and I’m very grateful to the RallySchool team, RPM and Coates Hire Rally Australia for giving me one of the most memorable experiences of my life.”

Both Adam’s parents have competed in motorsport, with his father taking part in autocross at a national level. Adam followed in their footsteps, trying a variety of disciplines – except rallying – but only at club level, until the competition. He is a member of the Deniliquin Sporting Car Club.

The Drive of a Lifetime competition was run on Channel Ten’s RPM and and attracted entries from more than 3000 would-be rally stars.

The prize included a fully-equipped Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VII rally car, the services of a professional co-driver, travel and accommodation for the winner and a companion, plus all associated costs such as service crew, entry fee, fuel, tyres and meals. The package was valued at around $50,000.

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.