Mikko Hirvonen of M-Sport Ford during today's Coates Hire Rally Australia shakedown.
Mikko Hirvonen of M-Sport Ford during today's Coates Hire Rally Australia shakedown. Trevor Veale

Talk is cheap when the dust flies

The WRC 10th round has attracted 21 overseas crews representing 18 countries.

The entry list stars World Champion Sebastien Ogier of France, Formula 1 race winner Robert Kubica of Poland, Australian hope Chris Atkinson and several more drivers capable of winning across more than 310 kms of Special Stage competition over three days.

The first of 20 stages is tomorrow morning, but the total WRC field of 30 crews already will have completed two days' of route reconnaissance and a shakedown this morning which, although not officially a competition, will be a keenly-observed guide to who's in form for the fast Australian roads.

The numbers say the winner should be either Ogier or Finnish teammate Jari-Matti Latvala, who have won all but one of the preceding rounds.

But Belgian Thierry Neuville is fired up after scoring the first win for himself and his new Hyundai team in Germany last month and will be rivalled for determination by his own teammates Chris Atkinson and New Zealander Hayden Paddon, both keen to shine in front of a Down Under home crowd.

Third Volkswagen representative Andreas Mikkelsen, the only other driver with his teammates still in contention for the drivers' championship, in hunting his first win, as is Northern Irishman Kris Meeke who came closer than ever in Germany.

Whoever wins the rally, Ogier and Latvala need to score only five points between them to clinch the manufacturers championship for Volkswagen in Australia. Atkinson, Australia's most successful international rally driver, is returning to his Hyundai seat after a six-month break and is back in his home event for the first time since 2006.

"Your home event is always special and the fact I haven't done it for a few years makes it even more significant," Atkinson said.

"Since my last rally in Mexico with the team back in March I've not done much racing, which is unfortunate because nothing beats time in the car.

"My target for Australia is to be consistent and be in the fight for a good result, but I'm not underestimating how difficult it will be to be on the pace after six months away.

"The car is showing some good speed so everything is heading in the right direction. I know we'll have some really strong support from the Aussie fans too."

The Rally Australia field also includes a strong group of contenders, led by Italian Lorenzo Bertelli, who are fighting for the WRC2 title, and nine Australian crews keen to measure their performances against the world's best.

The World Rally contenders will be followed by 40 cars in the East Coast Bullbars Australian Rally Championship while, on a separate course, the Pedders Suspension Coffs Coast 400 will offer equally spectacular racing.

The rally starts officially this afternoon when drivers turn out to meet thousands of fans at the Coates Hire Rally Show in the main street of Coffs Harbour.

RALLY TALK WHAT THE DRIVERS HAVE SAID TO WRC.COM

 

WRC coateshire Rally drivers at sealy lookout. Mads Ostberg. 08 September 2014. Photo Trevor Veale / Coffs Coast Advocate
WRC coateshire Rally drivers at sealy lookout. Mads Ostberg. 08 September 2014. Photo Trevor Veale / Coffs Coast Advocate Trevor Veale

Mads Ostberg,

Citroen DS3: 'Narrow sections are challenging'

"We'll have to contend with many different conditions, the kind of mixed road surfaces you also get in Mexico, Sardinia and Finland. The narrow sections are really challenging as the trees are so close to the racing line that you get the impression that they are actually on the road in some places. No-one has a great deal of experience here, so that may work in our favour."

 

 

Sebastien Ogier, France, Volkswagen Motorsport.
Sebastien Ogier, France, Volkswagen Motorsport.

Sébastien Ogier,

Volkswagen Polo R: 'Rallye Deutschland is behind us'

"I love the layout of the special stages and always feel good Down Under. 2013 was almost perfect for Julien and me - 19 best times on 22 special stages. Naturally we want to repeat that this year. Rallye Deutschland is behind us and we're looking ahead. We secured the drivers' title for Volkswagen in Germany, but not the manufacturers' championship. That's definitely the goal for Australia."

 

 

 

WRC coateshire Rally drivers at sealy lookout. Chris Atkinson 08 September 2014. Photo Trevor Veale / Coffs Coast Advocate
WRC coateshire Rally drivers at sealy lookout. Chris Atkinson 08 September 2014. Photo Trevor Veale / Coffs Coast Advocate Trevor Veale

Chris Atkinson,

Hyundai i20: 'Target is to be consistent'

"Your home event is always special and the fact I haven't done it for a few years makes it even more significant. Since my last rally in Mexico in March I've not done much racing, which is unfortunate because nothing beats time in the car. My target is to be consistent and be in the fight for a good result, but I'm not underestimating how difficult it will be to be on the pace after six months away."

 

 

Elfyn Evans.
Elfyn Evans.

Elfyn Evans

Ford Fiesta RS: 'No margin for error'

"It's another new event for us so the focus will be back on learning the stages and gaining as much experience as we can for next year. I watch the organisers' videos as much as possible to get a feel for the stages but there really is nothing like the first-hand experience of returning to an event for the second or third time. It looks as though there will be no margin for error, especially in the tighter sections through the forests."

 

Robert Kubica is ready to race.
Robert Kubica is ready to race.

Robert Kubica

Ford Fiesta RS: 'Made big progression'

"I don't know much about this rally, but I'm looking forward to discovering the event for myself and seeing what we can do out there. I'm coming back to this surface with much better spirits than we had for the gravel events at the beginning of the year. We've made some big progression. We saw in Germany that the gap to the leaders on Tarmac was generally similar to that on gravel and I think that proves that my driving on this surface has improved a lot."

 

 

Thierry Neuville
Thierry Neuville

Thierry Neuville

Hyundai i20: 'We must keep our feet on the ground' "Claiming our first win [in Germany] was of course a moment we will never forget, however we have to stay with our feet on the ground and be focused for Australia. We had a very good result there last year and I know the roads quite well now, so we will definitely be looking to have a clean run, to bring the car to the finish and try to set some good times. We didn't have the chance to test before Australia but we have experienced the i20 WRC in similar conditions so I think we are prepared for the event."

 

 

Jari-Matti Latvala, Finland, Volkswagen Motorsport
Jari-Matti Latvala, Finland, Volkswagen Motorsport

Jari-Matti Latvala

Volkswagen Polo R: 'I hope I can fight for the win'"Switching back from asphalt to gravel is always harder than the other way around, but we had a test in Finland before the rally to get used to the feeling once again. Finland is a good choice since the rally Down Under requires a vehicle set-up somewhere between Mexico and Finland. I hope that I can fight for the win. But we also need to keep an eye on the competition outside of our team. I think that Citroën and Hyundai also have a good chance of winning."

 

 

 

Mikko Hirvonen
Mikko Hirvonen

Mikko Hirvonen

Ford Fiesta RS: 'The stages almost feel like being back at home.'"This rally has always been a good event for us. In 2006 we claimed our first WRC rally win in Australia, so it will always hold a lot of amazing memories for me. The stages are fantastic to drive and some of them have a very similar character to those in Finland - it almost feels like being back at home. There's a challenge no matter what the conditions, but more than anything it's just flat-out enjoyment. We'll definitely be looking towards the podium. There's no reason why we can't achieve that and I can't wait to get out there and experience the stages again."

 

 

 

 

 

WRC coateshire Rally drivers at sealy lookout. Andreas Mikkelsen 08 September 2014. Photo Trevor Veale / Coffs Coast Advocate
WRC coateshire Rally drivers at sealy lookout. Andreas Mikkelsen 08 September 2014. Photo Trevor Veale / Coffs Coast Advocate Trevor Veale

Andreas Mikkelsen

Volkswagen Polo R: 'Lack of pressure could lead to a good result' "Back on gravel, I like it. Australia is one of the races this year that I have already completed in the Polo R. I enjoyed every special stage back then. This year we can rely on the onboard notes from 2013, and I will be studying them in detail. Overall I don't feel under that much pressure since we are in good stead in the drivers' standings. And whenever I have started without a lot of pressure, I have got a good result. I would like to make it onto the podium again. Of course it would be great to also win a rally one day, but I'm not in any rush. However, Australia is definitely one of the rallies in which I have the most chance of that."

 

New Zealand Hyundai driver Hayden Paddon.
New Zealand Hyundai driver Hayden Paddon.

Hayden Paddon

Hyundai i20: 'I hope we give the Kiwi fans something to cheer for' "Australia is the event I have been looking forward to the most and is as close as we get to a home event. I hope we give the Kiwi fans something to cheer for. We had a really good test in France recently and have adapted a new set-up from the previous events. The team are working hard to keep making strides ahead and coming off the result in Germany, the vibe in the team is very good. We are looking forward to taking another step forward and trying to mix it with the front runners."

Tickets for Coates Hire Rally Australia and the Pedders Suspension Coffs Coast 400 partner event are available through the NRMAtix link at rallyaustralia.com.au.