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As usual at Rally Australia, there was plenty going on behind the scenes, and a walk through the service park always seemed to produce an interesting snippet. Peter Whitten delves into a few stories you may not have heard.

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IMPRESSIVE SERVICE

Improvements to the service park at Kennards Hire Rally Australia saw bigger crowds and more entertainment this year. Static displays, the Red Bull lounge and an interactive Toyota truck meant that there was much more to do than just watch the cars being worked on. Naturally, the WRC team service areas were the biggest attraction though, and to this end Hyundai and Toyota really set the standard as far as size and attention to detail went. Perhaps not surprisingly, the private M-Sport operation was the least impressive of the four main teams, but after already winning the Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ championships before arriving in Australia, it clearly hadn’t affected their performance this year. Thanks to the improvements, the service park really was a destination well worth attending in 2017.

Toyota's service park set up at Rally Australia was extensive and impressive.

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A huge crowd filled the hill at the Coffs Harbour Jetty Super Special Stage.

CROWDS FLOCK TO COFFS JETTY

The crowd at the Coffs Harbour Jetty Super Special Stage on the opening day of the rally was big, and fans were treated to some great action. While the stage itself was short and was over in just over a minute, commentators including actor Shane Jacobson had the crowd at fever pitch as the cars got faster throughout the night. Again, the only downside to the stage was the long wait to exit the stage over the single cross-bridge over the track. With thousands of people lined up to leave the stage, it was a battle of patience for all concerned. A second cross-bridge must surely be on the agenda for 2018.

Rally fans battle the only bridge out of the Super Special Stage.

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Toyota's Esapekka Lappi during the torrential downpour at Wedding Bells on Sunday morning. Photo: Peter Whitten

SURVIVING THE BIG WET

When it rains in Coffs Harbour, it really rains! Conditions at the Wedding Bells spectator village on Sunday morning were horrendous, with rain teeming down in the 30 minutes before the stage began. Water was running down the road like a river, and drivers did an incredible job to (mostly) keep their cars on the road. Incredibly, once the sun came out in the afternoon, the same stage was seeing the cars raise large amounts of dust. Top marks go to the hundreds of spectators who braved the heavy rain while waiting for the cars. Umbrellas and ponchos were everywhere as fans did their best to stay as dry as possible. As for those wearing thongs …. perhaps you’ll reconsider your choice of footwear next year.

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Popular NSW rallying figure, Paul Kennedy, celebrated his 60th birthday in Coffs Harbour.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CHAMP

Former NSW Rally Champion, Paul Kennedy, turned 60 on the weekend of the rally. “PK” celebrated the big occasion by leaving Coffs Harbour at 3.00am to drive to the Nambucca stage, where he and his family were acting as officials. With dedication like this, he well and truly earned the party his mate, and former co-driver, Ken Behrend, organised on the Sunday night.

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Malcolm Wilson commends Seb Ogier on his Power Stage prowess on the final day. Photo: Peter Whitten

ALL SMILES AT M-SPORT

There were some nice touches in the M-Sport service area on the final day of the rally, with Ott Tanak about to leave the team for Toyota, and Seb Ogier still undecided on his future. Prior to leaving for the Power Stage, Ogier made a point of thanking all his mechanics before he drove off. When he returned, team boss Malcolm Wilson greeted him with a big smile, calling him the ‘Power Stage King’ after his last-gasp drive that saw him win his one and only stage of the rally. For Tanak, Wilson’s fatherly talk and big hug when the Estonian returned from the final stage in second place showed that they have a unique relationship built on many years of trust and frustration. Don’t be at all surprised to see Tanak return ‘home’ in the future.

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Hyundai mechanics threaten a nervous colleague on the final day.

NERVOUS TIMES

It was a nervous Rally Australia for one Hyundai mechanic, who was working on his last WRC event for the team. Under threat of all sorts of shenanigans, the young man was looking over his shoulder all weekend, fearful of what his workmates had in store for him. It was somewhat surprising when he arrived at the airport on Monday morning with a full head of hair and with his eyebrows intact. “Ah, but I still have three weeks of work in the factory to go,” he said worryingly.

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Vicki Quinn celebrated her 50th birthday during Rally Australia.

CELEBRATIONS ON HOLD

Nathan Quinn’s mother, Vicki, had to play second fiddle to her son at Rally Australia, even before he clinched his first Australian Rally Championship title. Vicki celebrated her 50th birthday on the rally weekend, but wasn’t too concerned to take a back seat to follow her son’s progress. No doubt the fact that he won the ARC meant the birthday celebrations were even longer and more jovial than expected.

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IDIOTS ON THE LOOSE

Publicising stupid and dangerous acts by spectators isn’t something that RallySport Magazine has a habit of doing. But the actions of these morons has to be seen to be believed. In-car footage of these dills was all over social media on Sunday morning, and hopefully the photos will quickly lead to these people being named and shamed. Had either of them been hit, the damage that would have been done to themselves, and the sport, is unthinkable.

These idiotic spectators (above and top) put their own lives at risk on Day 2 of the rally.

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Harri (left) and Kalle Rovanpera during a regroup on Day 1 of Rally Australia. (Photo: Peter Whitten)

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON

A keen spectator at Rally Australia was one-time Swedish Rally winner, Harri Rovanpera, who was keeping a keen eye on 17-year old son Kalle. Harri joined the RallySport Magazine tour group in a grandstand at Friday night’s jetty stage, and confirmed that his son would be entering a limited program of WRC events in 2018 – in countries that allow 17-year olds to drive. Asked if Kalle would be moving up to a faster, newer model car in some rallies next year, the proud father refused to say, but gave a telling smile ……

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Matt Whitten got the prize seat next to Rally Australia winner Thierry Neuville.

AS GOOD AS SEAT 1A

Perhaps the happiest person on a flight from Coffs Harbour to Sydney on the Monday after the rally was RallySport Mag’s Matt Whitten. He got the window seat next to Rally Australia winner, and Hyundai star, Thierry Neuville. But any chance of a chat about rallying and if Seb Ogier would retire were quickly put on hold when the Belgian closed his eyes and nodded off to sleep – for the entire one hour flight. If nothing else, the young fan came away with photographic proof that it did really happen!
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