SOME people hit a wall and never go back. Not Tom Clarke.
Nothing has got in the way of the White Wolf Racing driver's determination to win this year's AMH Automotive Rally of the Bay.
The Termeil product left the coast for Sydney in 2002 to pursue a career in construction. At the age of 25, he took the wheel and raced his way to a semi-professional level.
"It's something that gradually began to take over my life," Clarke said.
Queenslander co-driver Ryan Preston has been at his side for the past six years. They are hungry for a win.
The Rally of the Bay was scheduled for March, but COVID-19 pushed back the season opener to this Saturday, July 4.
For three years running, Clarke has lead the pack, but a few mishaps kept getting in the way of a podium finish.
At last year's Rally of the Bay, Clarke was looking hot for the win, but a high-speed crash forced him to concede.
Clarke and Preston were lucky to walk away.
"There was an oil leak in the engine bay that pushed back through the fire wall and on to my foot pedals," Clarke said.
Travelling at 170-180kmh, Clarke lost traction to his brake pedal.
"I went to put my foot on the brake and it slipped straight off," he said.
"We hit a big rock wall at about seven G-Force."
Clarke said the car did a "few pirouettes, turned and cartwheeled", landing back on its wheels.
Both Clarke and Preston had no recollection during the crash, but as the car came to a standstill, they realised what happened.
"We both took the same injuries - the same bruising in identical places as we took the same amount of force," Clarke said.
If you were in a normal car, you would be dead.Tom Clarke
Rally cars are built with the highest safety specifications as drivers spend plenty of time up around the 200kmh mark. Clarke said they were lucky, but the car - not so much.
"The disk brakes had disintegrated - exploded," Clarke said.
"And we found the rear shock 70 metres away, down in the bush."
Clarke said safety was paramount.
"These cars that we're running, have to meet a high criteria for safety," he said.
"They have crazy chrome-alloy-steel roll cages and seats that wrap around your body and neck, so you can't move."
In a crash that big, Clarke said: "If you were in a normal car, you would be dead."
Clarke does not let fear hold him back. It was a crash he put behind.
"You can't let it hold you back - the more you overthink your driving or slow down - the more risk you will put on yourself," he said.
"The safest driving is as fast and clean as you can."
Sitting in the drivers seat, Clarke said feels like light speed: "everything is a blur."
"You run on adrenaline; it's not for everyone," he said.
Clarke's Mitsubishi Lancer EVO was stripped back and rebuilt in time to start the series again.
It has been a year between races for Clarke.
"I haven't driven because of COVID; we haven't been able to access the facilities we need," he said.
It's Clarke's 6th Rally of the Bay, and he's keen to take on some big names, expecting top drivers to come out of the woodwork.
"It will be the strongest field the rally has seen in 20 years," he said.
"There's 10 out of 15 top drivers in the country."
"I'm keen to get out there."
Fierce competitors are Harry and Lewis Bates, Nathan Quinn and the "crazy Irish" team Shamrock with Richie Dalton.
"They're definitely the guys I will be battling up the front," Clarke said.
"The field is so strong, on any given day, there's 10-15 guys who could win it this year."
Clarke was focussed on getting himself mentally prepared. He said the first few stages would be tough.
"It's a matter of getting in the right head space - the first two to three stages will be about getting back in the groove," he said.
"It's a long day; we are in and out of the car for eight hours - there's a lot mental fatigue involved."
The Rally of the Bay forms part of the MTA NSW Rally Championship, East Coast Classic Rally Series, NSW Clubman Rally Series, Hyundai Rally Series and the ACT Regional Rally Series.
"It's one of the most anticipated events in the country," Clarke said.
The course is challenging, but that's what rally drivers want.
"There's a lot of fast flowing roads, corners, dips and hills that you can't see," Clarke said.
In the weeks leading up to the event, the White Wolf Team have documented every metre of the course in their pacenotes.
With up to 100 teams entering the race, Clarke said the service park at Corrigan's Cove will be packed to the brim.
"A lot of people will be coming into the area, if it wasn't for COVID there would be more," he said.
Drivers will hit up a test track in Canberra on Thursday, but Clarke will miss out due to "prior arrangements".
To visit the Rally of the Bay website, CLICK HERE.