The Australian leg of the World Rally Championship kicked off last weekend with some spectacular driving from all competitors. The Coates Hire WRC took place on the beautiful Coffs Harbour coast, among some stunning Australian scenery, with some unforgiving roads that put both drivers and vehicles to the test.
The WRC leg of the rally was a close run, with current champion Sébastien Ogier losing his lead in the first day, but quickly managing to regain his lead, taking the win by only 12.3 seconds over Volkswagon teammate Jari-Matti Latvala. When asked about the weekend, Ogier said “Every year I really enjoy to come Down Under. It’s a special rally. Like I said, the roads are beautiful and the last two years were very successful for me. I won the two, so of course I am happy to come back here. This is a beautiful rally, with some really nice flowing stages, but also some technical places as well. There is some loose gravel; it’s not easy to open the road. The long stage (Nambucca) is part of rallying from time to time. It’s a nice challenge, especially this one, which has a beautiful profile. “
Latvala and co-driver Miikka Anttila were desperate to get a third win for the 2015 championship under their belt, and vowed to put up a fight for the title, pushing Ogier and Ingrassia to their limits on the harsh roads. The closest round between the pair was the final of the 17 stages, won by Ogeir by just 1.1 second. Taking the win in Australia has cemented Ogier’s third world championship title with three rounds still left to race this season.
Nasser Al-Attiya has taken out the WRC2 title, but not without a fight from competitor Yurii Protasov, who slashed Al-Attiya’s 50.3 second lead to just 13.5 seconds by the end of the weekend. “It wasn’t an easy weekend, but this is a big result in the defence of our title. It’s an important 25 points for us,” said Al-Attiyah.
In the ARC round of the weekend, Eli Evans was feeling lucky to have taken the win, after almost retiring before the event even began. After his spectacular crash on Thursday in the power stages, Eli was speechless on his win; “I’m not usually left lost for words, but today feels very special, quite incredible actually considering that just a few days ago I wasn’t even sure if we’d make the start line.”
Kim Acworth claimed the title in the Invitational class, taking the trophy in her recently-rebuilt Subaru Liberty. One of only two women drivers in the event, Kim was apprehensive of testing the car on the rough roads, but everything went to plan with her and co-driver Dennis Neagle reaching the end with no damage. Marcus Walkem took out the 4WD class, with Clay Badenoch claiming the trophy on behalf of the classics, and Cody Crocker for the side-by-sides.
Several drivers expressed concern over the Australian roads, saying they were exceedingly dangerous, among the most challenging they have faced to date. Mikkelsen stated that he had “never done flat out in these conditions before, it’s very dangerous but very fun.”
The FIA’s choice to run a night stage in this round of the WRC was a controversial decision. Mikkelsen said; “The round has been trouble free, but it’s very different in the dark with the dust. Ogier stated “The night stages on gravel, I’m not sure this is the best – when it brings dust, it can be not so easy.”
Organisers have stated that the 2015 Coffs Coast Rally Australia has been the most successful to date, with spectator numbers nearing 55,000 over the weekend. Drivers are pleased to see so many enthusiastic rally supporters in Australia, having feared rally was dying off. Mikkelsen stated that “Rally is definitely coming back to Australia. It is good to see so many people, I think there is definitely more than last time.” Rally Australia have been contracted for the 2016 and 2017 WRC, with the 2016 calendar dates to be released at the end of the month.
Photographs and article by Nicole Jenkins.