The snaps, pops and crackles of exhausts notes penetrate the not-so-soundproofed walls of the Perth Northbridge TAFE radio-studio on a Friday night. A student perks up his ears and rushes out in curiosity; what is making that sound?
The Lancia Delta Integrale of Markku Alén goes past during the 1989 Rally Australia round of the WRC, and an obsession is born.
That was Daniel Smith’s introduction to rally motor-sport and it immediately inspired him to follow the rest of the ARC round – south to Wellington Dam, gazing up-hill at the glorious ‘Bunnings Stages’, and has culminated (so far) in his pride and joy Subaru Legacy, replicating the blue, pink and green colours of Finnish rally legend, Ari Vatinen.
Splashing through Forest Rally 2020.
About three years later found Daniel in a car in ’93: “I didn’t do any kind of marshaling (which is what you really should do to get into the sport.) I navigated for a while… a couple of years. I did a couple of Clubman Cup events… in a Daihatsu, and that was really good fun. I then had a bit of a break from rallying.” He was employed by Austereo, “… but then with my qualifications, I applied for media-accreditation. Got it and then for the network, I did the reporting on Rally Australia, Australia-wide. And so I was then ‘inside the ropes’.
What is one word that could describe your rally journey? “Serendipity.”
While Daniel was working for Austereo; “So I walked into the Sheraton; I had my media-pass on. I went to International Sportsworld Communication, ISC, (and those are the guys that do the media for rallying), and I said to them “I am doing a broadcast for Austereo, a national station. I’d like to use your backing music to keep the branding going for the WRC.” They said “listen; we can’t give it to you because it is copyrighted to us. But we didn’t bring anyone down – would you mind working for us whilst you are out there [on the stages]?” And I said “sure no worries at all”.
So Daniel kept updating Austereo with updates live, (for radio and internet), on Friday and Saturday while also calling talking with ISC and keeping them informed on the Rally Australia updates. And then “Sunday I didn’t do anything for my own network; I was permanently on the phone to them [ISC]. So we were down at Bunnings [rally stages] and it was awesome. And on Monday, they offered me a job. So for two years after that I was working for World Rally Radio and it was the two best years of my life.” Not bad going from a TAFE course in journalism many years earlier.
Fast forward 13 years, after marriage and a child, Daniel found himself twiddling his thumbs a bit. He got a Subaru GC8 then did it up as a rally-car. He did some khana-crosses and other events and he was on the periphery of rallying a bit, and then a fateful day occurred.
“Doug from Stechnic [Subaru servicing specialist] calls me up and says “I have got the car for you”. And whenever Doug says something like that, your butt tightens ’cause you know you are about to spend a lot of money.
So I came across this Legacy that I have now, that I am totally in love with. And I have painted it up with the works colours from the stuff that I remember back in my TAFE days – Ari Vatenin was the one that really captured my attention. Ari is my idol. So much so, that Doug and the team wrote ‘Dan Vatenin Smith 555’ on my sump-guard. I just love it.”
A happy place – counter-steering during Targa Rallysprints at the Kwinana Motorplex.
So why the 90s rally cars? What is it about them? “That era for me is rallying, because the cars were something that you could go and buy from the show room floor… there wasn’t all this technological aid in them. H-pattern gearboxes You had passive diffs. You had non-active suspension, and it was all down to the drivers and the mechanics tuning your vehicle to the best of their abilities.”
So is there any other car that you would like to drive out there?
I got a pretty emphatic “No. I am driving my dream car. Yeah. Totally. 100%. With the GC8 and the Legacy, I actually own my two dream cars. So I am the luckiest man alive. There’s stuff I would like to do to the Legacy to get it up to a better standard. But then I think, you know, she looks good she sounds great. I don’t want to drive fast; I just want to go out and have fun and compete.”
And boy does he ever. If you were at the Experts Cup rally 2021, just west of Wellington Dam and you would have seen his car crest the top of the ridge, then down the other side, a bit of a shimmy along the track with the ruts and bumps, and about 20m short of my position, there is a quick, happy wave. And from the stories I have heard, told by both Daniel and (his frequent co-driver) Rachael and Ferrante, and videos that I have seen online. – lots of laughter in the car.
Serious? Yeah nah; seriously fun in competition and spirit.
Is there anything else that you enjoy about rallying? “It is that community feeling that Rallying has that I am absolutely attached to. So I did a drive shaft at the Forest Rally, and thought that my Rally was run. I walked around the service park and asked if anyone had a GC8 drive-shaft and Karl Drummond gave me a drive-shaft to finish the rally in. I dropped a couple of stages but I finished the rally.”
So what is next with the lad from Subiaco? Well according to Daniel he is basically going to ‘sit-down’ and enjoy what he has built. It has taken him a while to get the car (40 years apparently) and and he wants to use it for as many events, both on and off-road, as he can afford.
And with a car that looks and sounds as good as this, wouldn’t you want to as well?