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GP Week : Issue 60
A FTER a three-year hiatus, World Championship rallying returns to Australia, with the Repco Rally Australia starting on September 2. This time the venue has moved from the country’s west coast, where the West Australia promoters achieved new standards of organisation and new levels of innovation, to the east coast. The event ran for 19 years in the west, during which time many new rallying ideas that first came to light in Australia, like superspecial stages, became a fixed part of the sport world wide. Now, the event has moved to the other side of the country into virgin rallying territory – a level playing field for the teams and a challenge for all concerned. The founder of the Rally Australia project is Queenslandbased businessman and former rally competitor Garry Connelly, who, despite the hospitality and freedoms available in the west, had longed to bring the event nearer home. When a 0 change in political leadership in Western Australia altered their policy concerning support for the event, the opportunity for a move came along. Connelly, however, had already sensed a change in the tide and had himself moved further into motorsport management in Australia, and on an international level, but all the time kept his finger on the pulse of World Championship rallying in Australia. So when Western Australia authorities finally pulled the plug, Connelly’s mind raced ahead, eastwards. H opes for a Queensland based event were large in the mind, but difficult to materialise. There were political issues in all directions, much of which were connected with Queensland’s challenge for the right to run the Formula 1 Grand Prix, and the corresponding development of a motorsport complex in the Gold Coast region, south of Brisbane. A project of such a level as this needs governmental approval in Australia, not only on financial matters, but also to help map a course through the countless side issues involved. In the end there was another party interested in supporting the event, the state of New South Wales, to the south of Queensland. The area selected for the event was the Tweed Valley region, right in the northeast corner of the state, tying in neatly with the tourist centre of Kingscliff. It is NSW in all administrative matters, but in fact it is less than two hours drive down from Brisbane. The format of the new style Rally Australia is different from the old style events in far more ways than simply a change in location. For a start, the stages are going to be run virtually entirely on closed public roads. These are usually gravel surfaced shire country roads, and in addition, for promotional reasons, there is a convenient venue en route where a downtown stage could be used on tarmac roads. This is to be an alternative to the dramatic figure-of-eight purpose built superspecial courses which were a feature of rallying in Perth. There has long been a popular annual classic car race event on these roads called the ‘Speed on Tweed’ week, providing a ready made course. The surface of the gravel stages is quite a change from the forest stages in the west, which were characterised by the ball-bearing stones that covered the surfaces and created a special driving challenge. There are only five kilometres of stage route on forest roads. The next surprise in the land known for its wide-open, population-free expanses is that the average length of stages is the shortest in the championship. This is a consequence of running the rally closer to areas of greater population, as a high proportion of roads within easy reach of established centres of population have already been asphalted. And perhaps the greatest challenge of the new environment has been to