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GP Week : Issue 132
The world rally championship now moves to the east coast of Australia, the first and only new territory in the series this year, the second of two times the WRC ventures south of the equator this year and the last ‘long-haul’ event of the season. This is round 10 of the championship, with only three events to follow and the pressure of teams about to settle their programmes for 2012. Eyes will be focussed on driver performance on an event where truly the playing field is truly level. As the BMW Mini team stays at home and continues development work with the John Cooper Works cars and the fledgling VW continue their planning for future WRC team, only Ford and Citroen will contest this event. With the championship chances heavily weighted towards the Citroen team and their drivers, the sharpest attention must be paid to Ford and particularly the uncertainty of Mikko Hirvonen who is currently fighting for his continued position in the Ford Abu Dhabi team. There is an outside chance that Citroen Total World Rally Team can clinch their seventh manufacturers’ world title in Australia, but to do this their drivers need to finish 1-2 AND the Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team must score less than five points. Ford cars have won Rally Australia the last two times (2006 and 2009) that it has been held. The main championship prospect in Australia centres on the Production Car series in which New Zealand driver Haydon Paddon statistically has the chance to become the first Antipodean driver to win a world rally championship title. Apart from an essentially asphalt Superspecial near the downtown harbour, this is an all-gravel event. Recently inspecting the route was M-Sport’s tyre adviser George Black: “ There is a wide mixture of stages. Some are highly reminiscent of the classic stages of the old Rally Australia in Western Australia except there are none of the small ball-bearing stones. Some stages are twisty and deep in vegetation that remind you of places like Whaanga Coast in New Zealand. Other stages are run on everyday roads (‘shire roads’) which are fast and flowing. “Only two venues do not conform to the regional norm – the port- side Superspecial in Coffs Harbour itself and the short 4.58km Clarence Stage, to be used as the Power Stage, which is very open, and ideal for air-to-ground filming. This is a good all-round event, the roads are not car-breaking. “ There are the usual Australian characteristics like the powerful low sunlight which makes first-time-perfect pacenoting important, and which causes strobe-effect visual confusion for the drivers. And of course the eternal flies!” There are 10 stage venues each done twice and one (the Superspecial) done six times, total 26. Three of the first day venues are completely new even to the national championship drivers as are the majority of Day 2 stages. Clerk of the Course Dr Michelle Gatton says that the terrain is a little more hilly than the route of the 2009 Rally Australia run some 300km further north. Four stage venues are on shire roads, three in forests and three in a mixture. The climate is similar to the Kingscliff event, though being further south it should be a little cooler in the evenings. Despite the pressures of championship sport, a holiday spirit is certain to pervade the event. Coffs Harbour lies in the northern part of New South Wales slightly closer to Brisbane than Sydney. The town grew in prominence in the early 20th century as a timber production centre. These days it is best known as a resort famous for its beaches, enjoying what is said to be Australia’s most agreeable climate. It is also well known for its local banana plantations. Coral Taylor, four - times Australian national champion co-driver and the mother of the Academy driver Molly, says that Coffs Harbour is a much enjoyed 10