PHOTO: Thierry Neuville of Belgium is confident he can hold off rivals for second spot in the 2016 WRC standings at Kennards Hire Rally Australia (Hyundai pic)
COFFS COAST (NSW) – Hyundai Motorsport driver Thierry Neuville believes he will be hard to beat in the battle for the runner-up spot in the 2016 FIA World Rally Championship at Kennards Hire Rally Australia next weekend.
With Frenchman Sébastien Ogier already confirmed as the drivers’ world champion, the focus for the season’s final round has switched to the fight for second between Neuville, Andreas Mikkelsen, for Volkswagen, and Hyundai’s other drivers Hayden Paddon and Dani Sordo.
All WRC crews today undertook their first of two days of crucial route reconnaissance, which will help ensure a fast, safe passage over the 23-stage, 313 km event. The competition will start on Friday morning after a Rally Show and Ceremonial Start in the centre of Coffs Harbour on Thursday afternoon.
Mikkelsen, from Norway, is hoping to overtake his Belgian friend and rival Neuville, but the Hyundai driver says he is feeling very confident.
“We are just 14 points ahead of third and 17 points ahead of fourth so it will be tough, but I think it will be hard for them to beat us,” Neuville said.
“I like this rally and have always had good speed here. We will try to keep it safe, but still go fast and get some important points for second place.”
For Mikkelsen and his teammates Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala, Kennards Hire Rally Australia will be an emotional end to Volkswagen’s involvement in the sport which it has dominated for the past four years. Taking second place for the year is the goal.
“It is sad, devastating…hard to let go of something so positive, but for sure we will try hard to finish in style after a good year and many good seasons.,” Mikkelsen said.
New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon is well aware he put a lot of pressure on himself in Australia last year and didn’t get the result he wanted. This time, it’s all about being as relaxed as possible in the lead-up.
“Then it will be absolute maximum attack. We have a lot of New Zealand fans coming over for the rally and a lot of Australian supporters too, so I want to put on a show and get a good result,” he said.
“Obviously I’d like a podium finish, and the top spot is what we all dream of, but the plan is just to go out and nail every corner from Friday morning and hopefully be spraying champagne come Sunday.”
A total of 75 cars in the WRC and National championship rounds will start on Friday morning, with the survivors due to finish on Sunday afternoon back in Coffs Harbour.
Spectating highlights include the Destination NSW Super Special Stage, 51km Nambucca stage on Saturday and the season-ending Wedding Bells televised Power Stage on Sunday.
Tickets are on sale through www.rallyaustralia.com.au and ticketek.com.