Beard in elite company
FEW sports people are ever given the opportunity to compete against the best in the world in their chosen field.
For Woolgoolga's Mark Beard, that dream becomes a reality this weekend at Rally Australia in Perth, a round of the 2005 World Rally Championship.
Rally Australia began on Thursday evening with two short special spectator stages, with the event proper getting underway yesterday morning.
Yesterday saw nine special stages completed, with the crews backing up for another nine special stages today, and the final six stages tomorrow. The event includes 26 special stages covering a total distance of 355 kilometres.
"This is absolutely sensational. It's a dream come true," Beard said.
"I have never been so excited about an event in my life. Being able to chat to (world competitors) Sebastien Loeb, Petter Solberg and Marcus Gronholm is just amazing. There is no other motorsport where you could do that."
Beard, who has teamed up with Sydney co-driver Matt Sosimenko for this event, has been given the start at Rally Australia due to sponsorship and financial support from Telstra, Qantas and Sheriden Hotels.
"Without the support of these organisations, I would not have been given the opportunity to rally with some of the best drivers and teams in the world," he said.
"Our aim is to finish in the top five in the Subaru championship, which we have been competing in over the past two years, and hopefully in the top 50 outright for Rally Australia.
"This is a tough event. The roads are unlike anything I have ever driven on. I have been getting some great advice from (former Australian champion) Neal Bates. He has competed at this event several times and has told me that the most important thing is to hold the line."
The Western Australian event is renown for its 'ball bearing' type gravel which is extremely slippery and found nowhere else in the world.
"It will be a long hard four days of rallying and we will do our very best to bring the car home in one piece," Beard said.