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It might not have been the best-attended round of the World Rally Championship ever held in Australia, but it sure was a resounding success. And if public opinion is anything to go by, then the push to have the 2013 event return to the Coffs Coast in two year’s time is certain to gather momentum in the coming months.

The success of the September 8-11 event was widely acknowledged despite the lack of a major naming rights sponsor, which just goes to show how government support (this year through Events New South Wales) is vital if Australia is to be included in the WRC calendar in the future.


From an observer’s point of view, Rally Australia seemed to tick most of the boxes. The weather was for the most part perfect, the crowds, though down on what we saw in Murwillumbah and Kyogle in 2009, were very pleasing, and the capabilities of both the organising team and the huge number of officials was what Australian events have become renowned for. Best of all, the event generally delivered what was promised by the organizers, despite some unfulfilled expectations of some of the local traders who were promised more than what was actually delivered.

There is no doubt that the well-used statement “the best roads in Australia” was very appropriate for the Coffs Harbour area. Indeed, one of the leading drivers was heard to enthuse that one of Saturday’s stages was the best he had ever driven, praise indeed from someone who is qualified to express such an opinion.

Weather in any part of the country, much more so on the Coffs Coast than many other areas, can always be problematic, however Mother Nature showed a kind side by turning on perfect rally weather for all but the first day, and even that was no bad thing. Friday’s wet and greasy conditions combined to turn a disaster for Citroen into a popular and well-deserved victory for Ford, and avoiding what could have been yet another ho-hum result for spectators into an exciting, albeit stage managed, three days of rallying.

Yes, there were a few downsides in the event, and no doubt they will be rectified in a further running of Rally Australia. Local traders were said to be disappointed with their increase in business which they were lead to believe would result from the rally’s presence. Perhaps they were oversold on the expected benefits of the rally, or failed to understand that the majority of the action takes place in the forests, not along the waterfront at Coffs Harbour. No doubt the local Chamber of Commerce will have this topic high on their agenda very soon.

As far as the Super Special on the Coffs jetty was concerned, the unfortunate aspect of its ability to enthuse the crowd is balanced against the huge success of the Langley Park stage in Perth or, to a lesser extent, the ‘Speed on Tweed’ street circuit at Murwillumbah. As always, it’s making the best of what’s available, the appropriateness of the venue, the amount of money that you can afford to spend in setting up the course and the access and exit afforded spectators. Waits of an hour to cross from one side of the track to the other do not sit well with spectators who paid good money to see action from behind barriers and wire fences.

Other than that there was little to complain about and the plus points easily outweighed the negatives. Spectator points were well chosen and accessible, officials competent and efficient, the huge police presence welcome and tolerant and, from our observations, there was little disruption from the locals whose access roads the rally used often for more than a day at a time.

However the most pleasing part of the whole event was the acceptance of the rally circus in the Coffs Harbour and surrounding areas, unlike the ugly, nasty and potentially dangerous opposition by the protesters so obvious in the Kyogle and Nimbin areas further north in 2009. They may well be ruing the loss of the million dollars or so injected into their community by the rally’s changed location, but then they may not be that smart in separating the wood from the trees.

Congratulations to Michelle Gatton, Michael Masi, Janah McLean and their teams for producing what many leading teams and drivers claim to be one of the best-organised WRC rounds on the calendar. The choice of a fresh area and new challenges never seemed to be unobtainable in planning the event and the local residents are to be congratulated on putting up with a little disruption because of this.  

Just how big the event could be with additional financial support from a further major sponsor is obvious. That would mean more ticks in more boxes in an already well-ticked scenario. Well done.

Words: Jeff Whitten

Photos: Peter Whitten

 

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