Preview: 2017 Kennards Hire Rally Australia
Kennards Hire Rally Australia, to be held in the coastal resort of New South Wales’ Coffs Harbour, well over 500km north of Sydney and nearly 400km south of Brisbane, will be the final round of the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship.
A holiday spirit is anticipated as all the leading WRC championship series have already been settled.
34 entries have been received, making this the best supported WRC long haul event of the year (Mexico 24, Argentina 19 starters), largely thanks to the now more widely available facility of admitting nationally homologated or accepted cars (ASN entries), of which there are 15 crews.
All four WRC teams have entered, each with three entries, except Toyota Gazoo Racing with two, while Jourdan Serderidis has also entered his Citroen DS3 WRC, although he has already clinched the new WRC Trophy at Wales Rally GB.
There are no WRC3 entries and only one WRC2 entry, which will be for Kalle Rovanpera in a Fiesta R5.
This is disappointing as among the ASN entries there are four AP4 cars – Brendan Reeves’ Mazda 2, Eli Evans’ Mini Cooper, Harry Bates’ Toyota Yaris and the Italian Fabio Frisiero, who has a Peugeot 208.
Cars built to these new Australasian regional regulations have comparable specifications to FIA R5 rules, but with 34mm instead of 32mm turbo restrictors. They have never faced a confrontation with competitive R5 cars.
Apart from various spectator friendly stages, the competitive route will run on gravel stages in private forests or on public “shire” roads.
Various changes to the route have been made since last year, notably that the rally spends two days (Friday and Sunday) in stages north of Coffs Harbour and only on Saturday will there be stages to the south, but not so far south as in previous years.
Many of the stages in the north use roads which are run on both days, but on the second day in the reverse direction. The route is designed to be more compact, almost 100km shorter in total compared with 2016.
There is also a national championship category on the event, in which 43 other crews (as well as 13 entered on the WRC event itself) will compete. Their route also covers all full days.
Although the majority of ASN entries are in familiar models of cars, modifications are permitted according to National rules, although ASN entry cars are ineligible for scoring FIA championship points.
For example, Group N and Group R4 cars, which under FIA championship rules are limited to 33mm turbo restrictors, when modified under Australia Production Rally Car rules (PRC) run with 34mm restrictors on race fuel, or 36mm on pump fuel (98 octane).
And, being so distant from the various championships of Europe and UK, there is little incentive to import less performant FIA-homologated equipment and cars into Australia.
National championship leader Molly Taylor’s team upgraded their Subaru to PRC status this season to make the car lighter and faster than orthodox Group N cars.
Unlike last year when the region was recovering after serious winter storm damage, the weather has stabilised this year.
The season does not finish at Coffs Harbour. Twenty-four hours after the finish of the rally, crews are invited to a season-ending gala night in Sydney, and after a week or so of ease comes the start of testing for Monte Carlo and Sweden, then the championship begins all over again …
Team news for Rally Australia 2017
Wales Rally GB did not provide any unexpected issues for the team. Challenge for Australia is likely to centre on the double usage, in opposite directions, of parts of the stages on the Friday and Sunday, and the consequential unpredictable condition of the surfaces of the stages.
WRC regulations prohibit teams making pre rally testing in Australia and the team has made no other specific testing for this event. Citroen has not won Rally Australia since Francois Duval in 2005.
After running with number 7 till Spain, Meeke is driving his Catalunya car with competition number 9 (chassis 9) for the second time. Lefebvre drives chassis 7 (with competition number 7), Sheikh Khalid’s Catalunya car, and Breen drives chassis 3, Lefebvre’s Catalunya car.
Best memories of the season: Meeke’s win on gravel in Mexico. Worst memories were in Argentina…
Monte Carlo testing is due to start in December.
Encouraging performance improvement in Wales Rally GB, Neuville’s second place was the team’s first podium result since Poland.
Happy memories of Australia for Mikkelsen, who won on VW’s final appearance last year. Athough Hyundai’s WRC activities were first conceived in Australia, Hyundai Motorsport has never won Rally Australia.
No specific testing done for this event. Same cars as used in Wales Rally GB. Like other teams, their dedicated long-haul event recce cars are containerised and have been brought to Australia from Argentina.
Best memory for 2017 was the all round competitiveness of the car and specifically the last stage victory for Neuville in Argentina, the worst was the lack of pace in the second part of the season.
Monte Carlo testing due first or second week in December.
All surprises in Wales Rally in GB were happy ones! Special challenge of Australia is the widely changing condition in the stages between wet and dry.
Fords won the last three Rally Australia events held in the pre-Volkswagen era.
Small M-Sport prepared car presence with only three World Rally Cars – same cars as in Wales – and the only R5 entry on the event, the same Fiesta which Kalle Rovanpera drove in Wales. No specific testing for this event.
As usual Ogier has his special Focus recce car, while the others have the usual long-haul containerised Volvos.
No scheduled dates for Monte Carlo testing, but certainly this year.
Two titles were the best memories, greatest frustrations of the season were Evans’ sudden defeat in Argentina and Tanak’s Poland troubles.
Toyota Gazoo Racing is only entering two cars for Australia. Juho Hanninen had his last event with the team in Wales, his co-driver Kaj Lindstrom has now started work as the team’s Sporting Director.
Although Latvala finished this event in second place three times in the last five years, neither team driver has won here outright before, and the last time Toyota won in Australia was in 1993 with Juha Kankkunen.
Team chief Tommi Makinen won twice with Mitsubishi and Esapekka Lappi won WRC2 for Skoda last year. Hanninen reports that weather forecasters predict the chance of thunderstorms during the event.