This weekend’s Rally Australia marks the climax to the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship season and, while the main WRC titles were wrapped up at Wales Rally GB, the battle for second position between Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak is sure to be intense. Over 12 rounds, seven different winners have stood on the top step of the podium and Rally Australia could yet see another victor, especially from among those crews starting further down the running order and potentially benefitting from an advantageous road position on Friday.
Australia has hosted its round of the Championship since 1989 and between then and 2006 its home was in the west coast city of Perth. The event moved to the east and New South Wales in 2009 and two years later relocated to its current base in Coffs Harbour, mid-way between Sydney and Brisbane. The event offers a real mix of twisty forest tracks, flowing shire roads and stages in the rainforests, which create a tricky strobe lighting effect caused by low morning and afternoon sun flickering through the trees. The dusty gravel tracks are also notoriously tough for the front-runners who are forced to sweep their way through the loose surface, providing a cleaner racing line for those behind.
However, despite the Pacific coast region’s reputation for dry, warm weather, rain would suit drivers such as Thierry Neuville. “It’s going to be a tough contest. Like every single round this year was pretty demanding, pretty, tough; it’s going to be the same here,” says the Hyundai driver. “I hope it’s going to be a little bit wet on the weekend, which should give us a bit more opportunity to be on the podium, bring back maximum points for the team and a win as well. If it stays dry, there will be some road-cleaning conditions – it might be tough for us being second on the road.”
Rally Australia kicks off with a free Rally Show and Ceremonial Start in the main street of Coffs Harbour on Thursday afternoon. Competition starts on Friday morning and continues over 318 kms and 21 stages to the finish on Sunday afternoon in the Wedding Bells State Forest, just north of the city.