PHOTO: Harry Bates flings his Toyota through a dusty corner during a test at the Rally Australia event launch (Bruce Thomas pic)
• Four drivers still fighting most unpredictable WRC in recent memory
• Channel Nine returns as host free-to-air television broadcaster
• Actor and rally fan Shane Jacobson to be special commentator
• Five young drivers from Australia and NZ set their sights on WRC
COFFS HARBOUR (NSW) – The fastest rally drivers and cars on the planet are heading for the New South Wales Coffs Coast to wrap up the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship on 16-19 November – and organisers tip it could be a fight to the last kilometre.
With 78 days and rounds in Spain and Great Britain to go until the start of Rally Australia, four drivers still have a chance of wresting the title in the world’s most challenging motorsport series.
The scenario was outlined when the final countdown to the rally was launched today before an audience of competitors and key supporters at Nana Glen, in the heart of WRC forest-stage country just north of Coffs Harbour.
Sébastien Ogier (France, Ford), Thierry Neuville (Belgium, Hyundai), Ott Tänak (Estonia, Ford) and Jari-Matti Latvala (Finland, Toyota) are in the hunt for the world championship, event Chairman Ben Rainsford said in a message to the launch.
Meanwhile five leading young drivers from Australia and New Zealand who attended today won’t win the championship or the rally, but are determined to test their talent at the sport’s highest level.
PHOTO: Young contenders for Kennards Hire Rally Australia, from left Nathan Quinn (31), Brendan Reeves (29), Mike Young (24), Molly Taylor (28) and Harry Bates (22). (Bruce Thomas pic)
Mr Rainsford said the 25th WRC event in Australia would climax the most unpredictable season in recent memory and chances were good that spectators would see it play out to the end.
“The World Rally Championship unfailingly delivers incomparable action and drama at every round and that will certainly be what spectators can expect at Kennards Hire Rally Australia,” he said.
“At the end of an incredibly competitive season, we’re facing the possibility of a showdown for the drivers’ championship, while any number of drivers in evenly-matched cars can win the rally itself.
“A ticket to Rally Australia will be a ticket to see the world’s best drivers in action and up-close. It just doesn’t get better than that.”
Mr Rainsford announced Channel Nine had renewed its rights as the host free-to-air national television broadcaster. Nine’s daily coverage will include a 90-minute live broadcast from the final stage, which also will be shared worldwide to an expected audience of more than 35 million viewers.
Pay-television viewers will see the rally – and all 2017 championship rounds – on Fox Sports Australia.
Organisers have put extra emphasis on spectator entertainment and free attractions this year.
Popular Australian actor – and rally fan – Shane Jacobson will be a special commentator at the harbourside Destination New South Wales Super Special Stage. Throughout the weekend, the Rally Park service headquarters at C.ex International Stadium in Coffs Harbour will feature free live bands, food and souvenir stands, trade displays, children’s rides and the highly-popular Meet-the-Crews interview sessions on Friday and Saturday nights.
The launch at Nana Glen introduced Australian drivers Harry Bates (22), Nathan Quinn (31), Brendan Reeves (29) and Molly Taylor (28) and New Zealander Mike Young (24). All are intending to enter the WRC section of the event, while Bates, Taylor and Quinn also will be fighting for the title in the final round of the CAMS Australian Rally Championship.
Clerk of Course Wayne Kenny said Rally Australia allowed any suitably licensed and equipped crew to contest a world championship rally and he encouraged as many Australians and New Zealanders as possible to enter.
Entries for Rally Australia open on 14 September and Mr Kenny said up to 80 starters were expected.
Tickets to Kennards Hire Rally Australia priced from $39 are on sale now from ticketek.com