COFFS COAST (NSW) – Contenders for the closest FIA World Rally Championship fight in 15 years struck a mock first blow when they raced each other on toboggans at a Coffs Harbour adventure park on Monday.
PHOTO: From front, Sébastien Ogier has the lead from Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak as the three final WRC contenders race each other on the Big Banana toboggan ride (Jeremy Rogers pic).
Enjoying some down-time before preparations for this weekend’s Kennards Hire Rally Australia begin, the three drivers who can claim the title, leader Sébastien Ogier, Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak, enjoyed some friendly competition at the iconic Big Banana park – and it was Tänak who claimed the first victory of the week.
The three took off together down the giant slide at the Big Banana, Toyota Gazoo driver Tänak claiming victory ahead of Ogier and Neuville.
PHOTO: From left, Andreas Mikkelsen, Craig Breen, Esapekka Lappi, Mads Østberg and Teemu Suninen tackled the TreeTops adventure experience in Coffs Harbour (Jeremy Rogers pic)
Tänak was quick to not claim any great advantage from his “victory” on the giant outdoor slide.
“It was good fun and it’s always nice to come a bit early to Australia to have a big chill and enjoy the local life,” the Estonian said.
“It’s a nice way to go into the weekend.”
Ogier said taking his vehicle to the limit for three days on the Coffs Coast of NSW might be what’s needed to ensure a sixth consecutive drivers’ championship.
“I have to push right from the start, especially facing the hardest position opening the road, it will be tough,” the Frenchman said.
“We won’t have to calculate anything and just go for it.”
There’s some rain forecast for the weekend although nothing like the torrential downpour that hit Rally Australia on the final day of last year’s event.
Neuville said it would be better for him if the rain could stay away.
“We’re second now, I can gain a little bit of an advantage if it stays dry with my road position running behind Sébastien. It would be better if it stays dry,” he said.
“Obviously with the rain if it comes it would more equalise the positions and the fight could be even tougher.”
Meanwhile fellow WRC drivers Mads Østberg, Andreas Mikkelsen, Teemu Suninen, Esapekka Lappi and Craig Breen also had some fun in Coffs Harbour this morning before starting their vital route reconnaissance tomorrow.
The drivers donned harnesses for a vertically-challenging walk at TreeTops Australia, where some had to overcome a small fear of heights to conquer the wood and rope courses set up to 10 metres above ground level.
Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT driver Craig Breen admitted to a few nerves before he began his adventure walk, which has some zipline rides thrown in for good fun.
“I don’t particularly like heights so much,” Breen said.
“It’s probably not the best place to go for that. In the end it was all good, once you trust everything.”
There was plenty of friendly banter between the drivers as they negotiated their way around a courses set high above sea-level in one of the Coffs Coast’s famed natural forests.