Drivers Start Preparation for Rally Australia

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Drivers Start Preparation for Rally Australia

PHOTOS (click to download): Left, Dani Sordo, horse owner Chris Fenech, Mads Ostberg, Andreas Mikkelsen and Ott Tänak go “horse-surfing” at Coffs on the table-top rally course (Bruce Thomas pics)

COFFS COAST (NSW) – Drivers start their final preparations for Kennards Hire Rally Australia today, embarking on two days’ of route reconnaissance that will be critical to their final positions in the 2016 FIA World Rally Championship.

A storm last night should have dampened surfaces and any dust on the forestry and rural roads that will be the used for the 23-stage, 313 kilometre final round on 17-20 November.

Reconnaissance, at normal legal road speeds, will be the only opportunity drivers and their co-drivers have to survey the route before competition starts on Friday morning near Macksville, just south of the Coffs Harbour rally base.

A good “recce” noting directions, cornering speeds and hazards will be important for drivers such as Thierry Neuville, Andreas Mikkelsen, Hayden Paddon and Dani Sordo who are vying for runner-up positions in the drivers’ championship won already by Sébastien Ogier.

Mikkelsen, Sordo, Mads Ostberg and Ott Tänak took to steeds of a different kind yesterday when they went horse-riding in the surf on Coffs Harbour’s Boambee Beach – but the challenge ahead was not far from their minds.

Especially for Mikkelsen, who is hoping to overhaul Neuville for second place and wrap up Volkswagen’s WRC participation on a high note.

“It’s the last rally of Volkswagen. It will be very, very emotional. We’ll try to end it in a good way, finish in style,” he said.

Later, a visit by Jari-Matti Latvala, Eric Camilli and Thierry Neuville, plus Olympic triathlete and rally ambassador Emma Moffatt, delighted students at Orara High School. And the drivers in turn were delighted when the students challenged them to races on table-top rally stages using spherical robot “cars” controlled by smartphones.

The drivers were keen to race each other as well as the students. They were enthusiastic when they posted quick times around the different courses – but the teenagers were ecstatic when they beat the drivers.

At a breakfast with 130 local business supporters earlier, Hayden Paddon spoke about his chances of moving from fourth to third in the final standings after this weekend’s round – and was happy to accept his temporary nomination as honorary Australian, saying it was more of an issue for his New Zealander countrymen, than for him.

“This is not quite home but it’s the closest we can get, and it’s a great way to finish the year. I’m aware of the possibilities this weekend, but I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself – you can come unstuck that way – so I’m trying to be as relaxed as possible,” he said.

Kennards Hire Rally Australia kicks off with a rally show and ceremonial start in the centre of Coffs Harbour from 4pm Thursday, with the first competition stage just before 8am on Friday.

Highlights of the weekend include the Destination NSW Super Special Stage on Friday and Saturday afternoons at the Jetty Foreshore precinct, around two kms from the city centre.

Tickets are on sale at ticketek.com or from several retail stores in Coffs Harbour.