Drivers to go flat-out for Championship glory
THE field is set and a 320km course in prime condition awaits a flat-out finale to the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) at Kennards Hire Rally Australia in six days.
The four-day thriller, officially starting on Thursday, will see 78 crews and cars, including 18 internationals, tackle 21 stages on roads north and south of the Coffs Harbour event base.
Nine of the 11 WRC drivers are World Rally winners and all are driving the spectacularly fast new-era Ford, Hyundai, Toyota and Citroën cars that have turned this year's competition on its head.
The internationals will be complemented by 58 crews contesting finals of the Australian Rally Championship and New South Wales and Queensland State series, all together making Kennards Hire Rally Australia the year's biggest and fastest event of its kind.
The CAMS Australian Rally Championship also will feature a showdown, with defending title-holder Molly Taylor hoping to hold off close rival and local hero Nathan Quinn.
Rally Australia chairman Ben Rainsford said everything is primed for an exciting event.
"We're ready to host an event of true World Championship quality," he said.
"All-new roads on Friday and updates to the itinerary on Saturday and Sunday hold a challenge worthy of these amazing drivers and their cars - and plenty of thrills for spectators.
"The Destination NSW Super Special Stage has some new features and the daytime stages are looking beautiful after recent rains. State forests comprise around 75 per cent of the stages and the Forestry Corporation of NSW has put enormous effort into presenting the roads and the spectator areas in great condition."
With nine drivers lining up with World Rally wins to their credit and with an incredible seven different winners alone this season, Rainsford is expecting the unexpected on the Coffs Coast.
"Anything can happen. Being the final round this is everyone's last chance for a result. Flat-out is sure to be the strategy for everyone."
The high-flying WRC action starts with the first special stage, Pilbara 1, at 8.13am on Friday. After the final, live-televised stage from Wedding Bells State Forest at 1.18pm on Sunday, crews will return to Coffs Harbour for the official podium ceremony at 3.30pm.
The Rally Show and ceremonial start on Thursday and podium presentation on Sunday in Coffs Harbour's city centre on Harbour Dr will be complemented by entertainment from Thursday to Sunday in the competitors' service park at C.ex Coffs International Stadium. Highlights include meet-the-crews sessions, live bands, fireworks, souvenir shops and trade displays.