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Rally Australia marks the final round of the FIA World Rally Championship, with the battle for the Manufacturers' championship still up for grabs. Martin Holmes chats to the factory teams about their plans for Rally Australia, lessons learned from Spain, and their thoughts on the 2020 WRC calendar. Citroen Heading in to Rally Australia, Citroen is already making plans for 2020, while hoping for success down under for Ogier and Lappi. The team has sent the Wales Rally GB car for Sebastien Ogier and his Sardinia car for Esapekka Lappi. For 2020 the team continue to work on every part of the car (dampers, engine, geometry...) and will introduce a new aero package for Monte Carlo. So far as the R5 cars are concerned, development continues of the C3, which in Spain showed how competitive it is with a 1-2 in the R5 category on the only mixed surface rally of the season. Thoughts on the 2020 WRC Calendar: “As a French manufacturer, we miss for sure Corsica. And at the same time, we are very pleased to go to Japan in terms of marketing. "We never have to forget that WRC is a marketing tool for the brand. Our sport has a long history and it is important that the calendar keeps a good balance between historical venues and new ones.” Citroen has won the Australian event twice, but not since it moved to Coffs Harbour. Ogier won in Australia consecutively from 2013-2015. Citroen’s hopes of a high scoring result in Spain were dashed on the first day, with Sebastien Ogier struck with hydraulic/power steering failure and Esapekka Lappi with engine failure. Ogier’s problem was an hydraulic issue linked to a pipe, but as this pipe was covered by a sheath, the problem could not be seen before and neither could the team figure out when it happened. But some changes have been made in their process, to avoid that kind of issue in future. The team are still investigating the engine failure as this was not close to the end of its life. There was some good testing before the event, improving our pace/balance on tarmac and even even if Ogier and Citroen were no longer in the race, Seb could show it, matching on many stages the pace of the front runners.

Mads Ostberg led Rally Australia for Citroen in 2018. Photo: Peter Whitten

Hyundai The Korean team is keen to capitalise on its 18 point lead in the Manufacturers’ series to become the first new manufacturer to win the title since 2013. The news that Ott Tanak had signed for Hyundai for 2020 should enable other driver line-ups for next season now to be settled. Spain was a competitive event and the team had no problems, the car showed itself to be fantastic on all terrains. Team manager Andrea Adamo: “A 1-2 result would have been better, but 1-3 was not bad.” Hyundai’s three car team in Australia comprises Neuville, event winner in Australia in 2017, Sordo and for a fourth time in a i20 Coupe WRC this year, Craig Breen who is replacing Mikkelsen. The team are focused on attention to detail to secure a strong team result. The challenge for Neuville is being one of the front running cars on the opening day, while Sordo and Breen, running further back, are likely to benefit from the effect of road cleaning. The team take their three Corsica cars for Neuville and Sordo, while Breen has Loeb’s car. Overall, the team are satisfied with the WRC calendar for 2020, although there are still countries where WRC should be present. “We have requested many times to the promoter and the FIA to consider going to countries like China, North America and Russia, but maintain the same number of rounds (14). It is important for Hyundai to be competing in countries that have relevance to the automotive business, and we are hopeful that our views will be taken into consideration in the future." Other activities: Sebastien Loeb competes on the Rallye du Var, the weekend after Australia, following his popular appearance on home soil at Vosges Rallye in June. Announced a week before Rally Australia are Hyundai Motorsport's plans to launch a two-step development i20 R5 programme over the next 18 months, confirming the team will run a WRC2 team in 2020. The cars are aimed for the new WRC2 and WRC3 formulae. The team said: "Craig Breen is currently testing revisions for a new i20 which will be homologated in time for January’s Rallye Monte-Carlo. The second car, to be based on the firm’s new i20 road car, is expected in the middle of 2021. "We are working on the dampers, the suspension and the engine and the target is to homologate the new components on January 1 to keep the current car up and running even more competitive than how much it is.”

Hayden Paddon's last WRC drive was at Rally Australia in 2018. Photo: Peter Whitten

M-Sport There were no real problems for the team as such in Spain, just struggled to fine-tune the set-up on the tarmac stages – dropping 2-3 seconds per stage, which soon added up. Pace was found on the final day, which was a little too late – especially after the engine coils problem on Evans’ car on Friday, which halted his chance of challenging for a podium. The tweak to Evans’ car was a change in diff map which gave him better feeling on the final day’s stages. The team had been unaffected by the weather conditions in advance of Spain. Hayden Paddon makes a second WRC appearance for the team this season, having scored podium results in the previous two editions. The team’s GB cars are used, Evans the same car, Suninen has Tidemand’s, and Paddon has Suninen’s. In R5, Gaurav Gill has the car Paddon used on GB. Looking towards 2020 there are currently only some small changes planned for the 2020 WRC car. For the R5 car the team are working on some more damper developments and gear ratios. The result in Condroz, proved the car is very competitive. And the team’s thoughts on the 2020 calendar? "It will be challenging as there are a lot of tight turnarounds, but it will be a good challenge and the events in the calendar will make for another exciting championship – and it’s really good to be visiting some new countries."

Sebastien Ogier jumps his Ford Fiesta WRC at the pre-event shakedown in 2018. Photo: Peter Whitten

Toyota Having secured the 2019 World Drivers’ title for Ott Tanak in Spain, the team have their eyes set on retaining the Manufacturers’ title. Winners of the rally last year in the hands of Jari-Matti Latvala, the team expect to push hard for the maximum points in their battle with Hyundai. In Spain Meeke struggled with the car’s set-up - accident; Latvala lacked confidence. The challenge in Australia is completely different*, with the trees closely lining many of the roads, the shadows that are cast can make it hard to see where the road is going. If the weather remains dry and warm the conditions can be very nice but if, like last year, it rains quite heavily then it becomes very tricky and slippery for everybody. * Note: comments received before the Rally Australia route was changed, due to bushfires.

Esapekka Lappi's raises the dust on last year's Rally Australia. Photo: Peter Whitten

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