RallySport Magazine were present at Repco Rally Australia to witness all the action of the WRC stars, and our first WRC round on the east coast of Australia.

Over the course of the weekend we enjoyed shakedown, service park tours, three days of spectating and the lively after-rally party. Here’s a few of our observations from a hugely successful event.

Organisers estimated that 5000 people attended the CTEK West stage just south of Kyogle on Saturday afternoon – surely the biggest crowd ever at a traditional rallying stage in Australia. The wall-to-wall people was an amazing sight, although the traffic jam getting out of the stage was a problem. It took some punters over an hour and a half to get out of the car park. Nevertheless, it bodes well for future east coast Rally Australias.

The crowd at CTEK West was smaller on Sunday morning, but great work by the organisers had the traffic problems sorted and showed the event’s ability to improve things as the rally unfolded. Great work.

Spectator numbers for the whole event, including the Super Special in Murwillumbah, exceeded 70,000 – far exceeding the numbers rally organisers had expected.  Whilst many would have been there just to watch the world’s best rally drivers in action, we must try and take advantage of their enthusiasm and get these spectators out on the stages of other rallies.   If each ARC event could attract just 20% of that number, rallying in Australia would really start to gain the attention it deserves, and more spectators must surely mean more manufacturers taking part in our sport.

Businesses in Murwillumbah and Kyogle did a roaring trade over the rally weekend, with thousands of people buying food. We heard that the bakery in Kyogle took a six figure sum and sold 3000 pies during the rally. With those sorts of numbers, how could they not want the rally back?

Neal Bates was out of late time before the CTEK West stage on Sunday, but was determined to drive the stage. After missing it on Saturday due to a holed radiator, the three-time Australian Champion ran the stage as the second last car on the road, but still thrilled the big crowd with his antics in the S2000 Corolla.

Fans at Saturday’s Bosch stage were intrigued by Henning Solberg’s appearance in his Ford Focus. Solberg went off the road early in the stage and crashed through a gate. When he appeared at the spectator point his bonnet was hanging by one bolt along the side of the car, and the damage looked severe. Luckily for the Norwegian there was no mechanical damage, and he finished the rally.

Ford star Jari-Matti Latvala went off on the same corner as Solberg when the stage was run later in the day. JML punctured a rear tyre and lost considerable time in the incident, ending any chances he had of victory.

The form of Sebastien Ogier was a joy to watch, as was his pre-event tyre change practice. Ogier and his co-driver, Julien Ingrassia, sat in their car with helmets and seat belts on, then proceeded to get out of the car, change a front wheel, put everything back in its place, then get back in the car with their seat belts on. They completed the job in an incredible one minute and 22 seconds!

WRC co-driver, Dale Moscatt, gave the RallySport Magazine tour guests a unique insight into the Citroen Junior team with an exclusive talk before the rally started. Moscatt gave an enthralling talk about the team and the WRC, before showing the group of 70 guests some of the C4 WRC’s special parts. The car’s sumpguard costs 3000 Euro, while the front bumper assembly is a whopping 4500 Euro.

Moscatt, a former ARC winning co-driver, said that he is still working on his dream of winning the World Championship, and is hoping to return to the WRC full time in 2010. He spent Rally Australia working for WRC Rally Radio, doing end of stage interviews for the worldwide internet audience.

They may not have been on the pace of the front runners, but Ford drivers Federico Villagra and Khalid Al Qassimi were impressive to watch during the event. Both drivers have come to the WRC with substantial financial backing, but showed their skills over the weekend. Al Qassimi, with backing from Abu Dhabi, reportedly has a Bugatti Veyron sitting at home in his garage – no shortage of cash for the Sheik!

Aussie Glenn Macneall sat beside Toshi Arai in the PWRC Subaru, but had a heartbreaking retirement on the very last stage of the event. A broken gearbox ended their rally.

The Citroen versus Ford battle was great to watch. From a spectator’s perspective, the Citroen was the best sounding car, but the Ford was more exciting to watch – perhaps on account of having two “Flying Finns” at the wheel.

Citroen’s drivers used buffed rally tyres for the tarmac stages, yet Ford’s drivers did not, giving a big advantage to the French team. At the Cyprus Rally earlier this year, buffed tyres were not allowed, but Citroen used the rules to their advantage in Australia, gaining a big time advantage.

There were many bemused conversations after the Citroens received a one minute penalty for illegal suspension after the rally. Some in Ford’s ranks were questioning the severity of the penalty. In Portugal two years ago the works Fords were penalised five minutes for having windows that were too thin, yet this time the penalty on the works C4s was only one minute. There were many others who asked why Citroen’s cars weren’t excluded from the results altogether.

The rally’s protesters got a lot more coverage than they deserved, but the WRC drivers also weighed into the debate after the rally. "If the people do not want us to be here, I prefer not to come," Sebastien Loeb said. "I want to go to some place where the people enjoy to see us. It was a race I didn't enjoy, for that I prefer it moves. I am doing my job, so I don't deserve this. For us it was a nice place, a nice rally and good organisation. Everything was good but we feel that some people are not happy to see us come here. Henning Solberg agreed: "I'm sure the organisers will find a good place next time," he said. "With all this protesting I don't think this a place I want to come back to. You get the finger every kilometre, so it is not so good. There are so many people out there -- the way they behave is not a good way. It was a not pleasant rally to race. It is sad they are like that."

International guests (and indeed, the Aussies, too) on the RallySport Magazine tour were disgusted that the protesters would put lives at risk by throwing rocks at rally cars and putting boulders on the road.  We all agree with their right to protest peacefully, but when they stoop to such lows it certainly leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.  

Rally organisers kept the ceremonial finish short and sweet with just the PWRC winner, Martin Prokop, and the first three outright place getters being called to the dais before the champagne corks were popped.  Every finisher then drove onto the dais to be presented with their trophy for completing the rally.  One driver who left a lasting impression was Han Han of China.  He misjudged the ramp off the dais and ended up with the front end of his Mitsubishi hanging precariously off the edge!  It took a few rally officials to push him back onto the ramp so he could exit t he correct way. As someone commented, he hadn’t done a recce of the presentation area and obviously didn’t have the ramp in his pacenotes.

The Mantra on Salt Beach and Peppers Hotels were a hive of activity during rally week.  Both the Ford and Citroen teams, as well as a number of VIPs, all stayed at the Resort. RallySport Magazine tour passengers were able to get up close and personal with the stars of the WRC, often joining them at the breakfast buffet or in the lift.

Both hotels provided a perfect location for rally headquarters with superb facilities.  The only complaint we heard from our guests was the fact that they weren’t staying on longer to enjoy all that the region and the hotel had to offer.  We can bet they’ll be extending their stay next time.

The rally attracted a host of sporting celebrities who were keen to see the World Rally Championship stars in action. Legendary swimmer Dawn Fraser, V8 Supercar stars Steven Richards and Dick Johnson, and bike aces Mick Doohan and Darryl Beattie were all in attendance.

Cody Crocker put in a great drive to finish as the first Australian home. In a Les Walkden Rallying Subaru, Crocker took some time to get the former Tony Longhurst / Targa Tasmania car up to speed, but was happy with his result. While not quite to the same specification as his APRC Impreza, Crocker was rapt with his result.

Channel 10, and One HD, provided great coverage of the rally, with spectators around the country tuning in to watch the action on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Greg Rust and Darryl Beattie headed the coverage, with expert comments from Dean Herridge during Sunday’s telecast.

The youngest of the RallySport Magazine team, 7-year old Matthew Whitten, was thrilled to get Michael Kahlfuss’ roll on camera during Sunday’s stages. Using a ‘point and shoot’ digital camera, Matthew captured the car as it completed its roll, much to his delight. His elder brother, Luke (12), also took some brilliant action shots during the rally. Dad may soon be out of a job!

A new innovation to Rally Australia was the live Rally Radio which was broadcast over two FM stations in the region. Headed by journalist Jon Thomson, it was a great way of keeping up to date with the rally, and worked exceptionally well. There's no doubt that Rally Radio will be back, bigger and better in 2011.   



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