PHOTO: Fast and spectacular – three untried new Special Stages like the WRC drivers’ favourite Nambucca test (above) mean the fight for Coates Hire Rally Australia will be wide open from the start (Chris Munro pic)
CHALLENGING new stages on this year’s Coates Hire Rally Australia will level the playing field and give more drivers a chance to lead from the first kilometres of the FIA World Rally Championship round, the event’s sporting chief says.
Day one of competition on Friday 11 September will feature three new stages, Utungun, Bakers Creek and Northbank, in the Taylors Arm area – home to the famous Pub With No Beer – west of Macksville, on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales.
Clerk of Course Adrian Stafford describes the stages as the greatest challenge the WRC drivers will have faced since the rally moved to the Coffs Coast region in 2011.
With no driver having experience of the new roads and gravel surfaces loose after preparatory roadworks, more of the WRC field should be able to take the fight to the established front-runners, Stafford predicts.
Under championship regulations, the driver leading the standings – currently double world champion Sebastien Ogier – must start first on the opening day and potentially is at the most disadvantage.
“They will go straight into the event on three new stages with no-one having an advantage. This breaks the rhythm of the event from previous years,” Stafford said.
“The tidy-up process will mean the surface will be loose and new. I will not be at all surprised if after the first three stages at lunch on Friday we have some different results.
“These are fantastic drivers’ roads through open farmland, with beautiful scenery and more importantly excellent vision for the drivers that will give them confidence to push hard.”
Announcing the release of competitor Supplementary Regulations for the WRC 10th round and the ECB Australian Rally Championship support round, which outline the three-day competition itinerary, Stafford said the new stages approximately 80 kms south of the Coffs Harbour rally service park were part of a program to refresh the driving challenge from year to year.
“We have also retained the 50 kilometre Nambucca Special Stage on Saturday, which drivers came away from last year saying was one of the best in the WRC.
“Although shorter, I think Utungun, Bakers Creek and Northbank are even better than Nambucca – they will be thrilling for both drivers and spectators.”
Stafford also is exited about another innovation, the addition of a night stage at Valla on Saturday.
“This will be the first time in its 24-year history that Rally Australia has run a stage at night and it has already triggered quite a bit of excitement among traditional rally fans,” he said.
“With the first WRC car starting on the stage just after 6pm, spectators are going to experience something very special.
“The sound and sight of the world’s fastest rally cars blasting out of the darkness will be fabulous. As the countryside is fairly open, the headlights should be visible for a good distance.”
Other changes to this year’s schedule include a 6.5km extension at the start of Friday’s Newry Long stage – “a classic forest stage”, now 29.5km long – and the addition of the new 6.1km Settles Road stage on Sunday morning.
This year’s Coates Hire Rally Australia comprises 17 Special Stages and a total competitive distance of 309kms. The liaison distance between the various stages and the service park at C.ex Coffs International stadium is just over 700kms, ensuring the event remains one of the most compact in the WRC calendar for spectators and teams.
Three stages, Valla on Saturday morning and Wedding Bells on Sunday morning and afternoon – the event-closing WRC Power Stage – will be broadcast live on television around the world, delivering priceless Coffs Coast tourism promotion to an estimated audience of more than 46 million viewers.
Entries close on 14 August for the WRC round and 20 August for the Australian championship round.
Tickets priced from $53 and offering dedicated viewing at 10 locations are on sale now from NRMAtix, via www.rallyaustralia.com.au. Entry will be free to the Coates Hire Rally Show and Ceremonial Start on Thursday afternoon 10 September, the service park all weekend and the official podium finish on Sunday.