The Curtain to fall on NSW- Coffs Harbour for WRC?

Rally Australia 2017.

With the recent announcement from the FIA that New Zealand will again host a round of the 2020 FIA World Rally Championship, this will be at the expense of the Australian Round of the WRC.

Time to reflect on the past 7 years of a world class event on the NSW – Mid North Coast town of Coffs Harbour.

2011- My first visit to this event as a spectator and I was immediately hooked, my memory is Sebastien Loeb was caught out by wet roads and crashed and Mikko Hirvonen going on to win.

2011 – Rally Australia- Ford Focus RS winner Mikko Hirvonen. SS3 Shipmans.

2011 – Rally Australia – Citroen Driver Sebastien Loeb. SS3 Shipmans.

2012- No event in Australia.

2013– This time to the rally, I gained press accreditation as a photographer and covered the event for Australian Regional Media. Frenchman Sebastien Ogier went on to win the Australian round, the first of three consecutive Aussie wins. This was also the start of his and co- drivers Julien Ingrassia’s Drivers World Championship domination and the first of their 6 drivers & co-driver’s championships to date.

2013 – Volkswagen Polo R. SS19 Shipmans.

2013 – Citroen – Mikko Hirvonen.SS 22 Shipmans.

2014 – Vague recollections of a Volkswagen podium lockout with Ogier, Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen driving Polo R’s to victory. Also recall a lot dust was consumed. Rally still in September at that stage and had not moved to its current timing in November.

2014 – Yuri Protasov Ford.SS6 Newry.

2014 – Robert Kubica – Former Formula 1 driver.SS4 Hydes Creek

2015 – Frenchman Sebastien Ogier wins his 3rd straight Rally Australia piloting his Volkswagen Polo in their second last WRC Australian rally, as next year would be Volkswagen’s last hurrah. The emissions scandal would engulf Volkswagen and end a dominant period for the manufacturer.

2015 -Eating Dust is a pre requisite for rally photographers. SS 11 Nambucca.

2015 – Kris Meeke on the edge – SS 11 Nambucca.

2016 – Volkswagen Driver Andreas Mikkelsen went on to win the Australia Rally in 2016 and emotions ran high when the end of the rally saw the end of Volkswagen competing at the elite level. A few tears were shed and a grateful audience created an avenue of appreciation for Volkswagen to drive down at the finish of the rally at the either the ceremonial start or winner’s podium ceremony.

2016 – Frenchman Eric Camilli driving Msport Ford – Thursday Shakedown.

2016 – Kiwi, Hayden Paddon Hyundai- SS 1 Utungun.

2017 – Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville showed class to win the 2016 edition of Rally Australia and let his fellow competitors know of his desire to claim a worlds driver championship for himself and co-driver Nicholas Gilsoul. Both are still to claim that accolade.

2017 – Citroen Driver Craig Breen – SS1 Pilbara.

2017 – Kiwi, Hayden Paddon Hyundai – SS4 Pilbara.

2018 – What a lead up to the WRC final round of the WRC Championship with three drivers still in contention to claim the drivers title. Disaster was there to greet Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville and Toyota’s Ott Tanak on the final day with crashes on wet slippery roads. That left the door open for then Msport and 5-time world drivers champion, Sebastien Ogier to stroll through and claim no 6. Toyota’s Yari Matti Latvala won the rally and secured the manufacturers title for Toyota in 2018.

2018 – Citroen Driver Craig Breen – Sunday SS23 Sapphire.

2018 – MSport – Teemu Suninen. Thursday Shakedown.

Well that’s it for Rally Australia at Coffs Harbour, for a while at least! Could be worse, New Zealand is not that far away and the thought of the scenery and roads that NZ would offer, has me slightly excited?
The last seven years have been exhilarating and had me looking forward to the next WRC Rally Australia, as soon as the last stage was won and run and a champion crowned.

In the time I have spent photographing this event, I have been very lucky to witness the second Frenchman, Sebastien Ogier dominate all comers and do it driving for a couple of different manufacturers.

A true champion is not a common thing these days and to witness Sebastian Ogier dominate for 6 of the last 7 years has been a privilege, this contrasted by the overnight victory of Toyota’s Ott Tanak to claim his maiden FIA World Drivers championship, who was only a rookie back in 2011.

To friends made along the way a thank you!

A thank you to the town of Coffs Harbour for your welcome and providing some outstanding back roads.

And lastly, I hope it is not too long before the world’s best grace our shores again.

Words and Pictures
Terry Hill