PHOTO: From left, Hayden Paddon, Ott Tanak, Mads Ostberg and Andreas Mikkelsen try their surfboards before taking to the Pacific Ocean on the Coffs Coast today (Jeremy Rogers pic)
COFFS COAST (NSW) – The world’s fastest rally drivers kicked off event week at Coates Hire Rally Australia with a hearty breakfast, a bracing surf in the Pacific Ocean and a bit of rugby today.
The highlight for Andreas Mikkelsen (Volkswagen) and Mads Ostberg (Citroen) of Norway, Ott Tanak (M-Sport) of Estonia and Hayden Paddon (Hyundai) of New Zealand was a surfing session at Coffs Harbour Beach with rally ambassador and multiple Australian Ironwoman Champion Courtney Hancock.
The drivers started on the calmer waters of the Coffs Harbour port and soon learned to ride their surfboards before crossing a breakwall and testing themselves in bigger surf.
Ostberg was so taken by the experience, which was assisted by surfing teacher Lee Winkler, he laughingly predicted he might have one more year in rallying before switching sports to become a pro surfer.
“It was tricky for sure, more so on the bigger waves but it was fantastic, just lying out there, waiting,” Ostberg said.
“You hit the waves and you have no chance. They just destroy you, but it was good fun and I hope you can organise it again for us for next year.
Tanak was equally excited.
“It was my very first time on (the) ocean and on (a) surf board so a very good experience,” said Tanak, who noted his native Estonia was “not close to any oceans”.
“I think I got a bit too excited and I think it could be my next big sport.
“You really need to concentrate very hard, for the first time on the waves. You really don’t know what you need to do first time, but I try to do my best and it was easier to get on the board than I was first expecting, so it was really good.”
After lunch, Great Britain’s Kris Meeke (Citroen) and Elfyn Evans (M-Sport), Jari-Matti Latvala (Volkswagen) of Finland and Thierry Neuville (Hyundai) of Belgium challenged the Under 16s rugby team at St John Paul College high school in Coffs Harbour to a kick-off.
While it quickly became clear that Meeke and Evans had rugby experience in their school years, Latvala and Neuville admitted they were more used to playing with a round ball.
However, they were happy to accept some coaching from the team, which has just won a regional rugby final competition.
Today started with Meeke, Paddon Tanak, Mikkelsen and Australian WRC2 entrant Scott Pedder attending a business breakfast at the award-winning Bonville Golf Resort, near the Coffs Harbour rally headquarters and service park.
After signing autographs and posing for photographs with local business leaders who came to demonstrate their support for Rally Australia in their community, the internationals took to the first tee to fire some balls down the fairway – with varying displays of skill.
Today’s activities were the start and end of the “fun stuff” for the WRC crews. Tomorrow and Wednesday they will be out in countryside and forests, checking all the stages that they will contest at speed from Friday to Sunday.
Coates Hire Rally Australia kicks off on Thursday afternoon with a Rally Show and Ceremonial Start in the centre of Coffs Harbour.