Rally Australia proving vital in battle for WRC2 title
AS EVIDENCED by last night's Coates Hire Rally Show in Coffs Harbour's city centre, there's plenty more than just the 11 drivers vying for WRC points roaring around the Coffs Coast this weekend.
Rally Australia will also see drivers from around the world battling it out for vital championship points in the WRC2 division with the Coffs Coast event also doubling as the fifth round of the East Coast Bullbars Australian Rally Championship.
The battle for WRC2 honours at Coates Hire Rally Australia promises to be one of the most intense of the season, with five of the top six championship contenders lining up on the Coffs Coast.
With drivers counting their best six scores from seven rallies, they can choose their preferred events. But all the main protagonists are in Australia except fourth-placed Karl Kruuda and the title picture could be clearer by Sunday afternoon's finish.
Australia is the first scoring round for leader Lorenzo Bertelli (No.37) since the Italian claimed his maiden win on home ground in Sardinia in June.
He drives a Ford Fiesta RRC and holds a three-point lead over Drive DMACK's Ott Tänak (No.34), who pilots an R5 version in his debut here.
This is the final scoring opportunity for the Estonian who has been doing some offshore study of the Coffs Coast roads in the lead-up to the crucial event.
"I've been looking at the video of the stages to get some information," Tänak said.
"They look really nice, fast and smooth in most places. It will all be new for us and I hope to be pushing for some fast times."
Yuriy Protasov (No.32) is back in a Fiesta RRC after a World Rally Car debut in Germany and the early-season leader is three points behind Tänak.
The Ukraine driver is also tackling his final scoring round.
The absent Kruuda is a point behind, with Jari Ketomaa (No.35) two points further back in the second DMACK Fiesta R5.
The Finn has four second places to his name and will hope to go one better in his Australia debut.
Just nine points cover those top five drivers but sixth-placed Nasser Al-Attiyah (No.36) must not be ruled out. The Qatari, who won his opening two rounds, is 21 points off the lead but has completed just four of his seven scoring rallies, the least of any of the contenders.
Saudi Arabian Yazeed Al Rajhi (No.31) is likely to be among the frontrunners in his Fiesta RRC, with Jourdan Serderidis (No.38) and Subhan Aksa (No.45) also at the wheel of Fords.
Max Rendina (No.33) leads the Production Cup within WRC2 and just finishing will be enough to take maximum points from his seventh and final outing, as he is the only Cup entrant.