Wednesday, 14 September 2011 22:10

Rally Australia 2011

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Text and photos by W S Hunter A few weeks ago, the Hunter family decided to unload our free airline miles and head up to Coffs Harbour to go and see Rally Australia.  This was the third WRC in Australia which we have been fortunate enough to see. The first time, when Lucas was only 7 was WRC 2002 in Perth. You might remember that this was the rally when Francois Delecour famously launched his EVO VIII at very high speed into a tree, which ended with his Mitsubishi 4G63 engine over 100 metres down the road. We also had been to the 2009 WRC which was unfortunately marred by protests from a bunch of unhappy hippies in Nimbin. Hence, we were very much looking forward to this event, which would be a “first” for Australia in many different ways, including the new 1600 cc WRC cars, the new Mini entrant, a chance to see Ken Block do his thing. Add to this a nice classic car field to round it out, and a chance to get some sunshine into the system, and what more could you desire? We actually arrived on Thursday, 1 day before the rally started, which was a good thing as we got a chance to settle in and see some of the shakedown stuff happening. By a complete fluke we decided to head into the Bucca stage (SS21-24) on the off chance that any teams were practising in the forest. After a stiff walk up some steep hills (in thongs – not a good idea) we arrived at a magnificent spot, very close to the shakedown actions somewhere in the forest with a handful of police on trail bikes watching the ARC field going through multiple practise runs. Highlights were the unbelievably fast EVO X of Dowell and Lee (now running an unrestricted turbo and rumoured to be putting out 400 HP), the insane-revving Civic Type R driven by Eli Evans, and a very quick looking RWD Nissan 200SX punted along by Will Orders. If you get a chance to see these cars at Rally Victoria later this years, I highly recommend it.  After that, rally spirits were high as we arrived later that evening at the first super special stage. I don’t normally enjoy these things, however the sight of the WRC cars with exhausts and brake discs glowing red travelling very rapidly around tight twists and turns was spectacular. The new Mini Countryman piloted by the young Brazilian driver Daniel D’Oliveira sounded fabulous, but seems a little off the pace. I have to admit though, I was expecting more spectacle from Ken Block, but perhaps due to a local shortage of gorilla suits and rocket-powered Segways from the local Coates hire outlet, Ken couldn’t quite get his Mojo happening. Comment of the night from the expert commentary team – “…some of these competitors are running 30,000 Watt driving lights!”. Hmmm, looks like I’m going to need a slightly bigger alternator for the Stanza then – say about 2500 Amps should do it, but at least I should be able to light up the MCG.  Friday morning saw us head over to the Shipman’s stage to view the first forest stage of the WRC. We purchased “enthusiast passes”, which are much better spectating points and no more expensive than the general admission passes. The officials warned us that the spectating point contained more than a few paralysis ticks, and leeches – the former with a fondness for burrowing in to gentleman’s parts. One of our party (who shall remain nameless) experienced the joys of this, with a few fire-ant bites added in to the groin region for extra good measure.  This was a superb spectator point. Unusually for a WRC stage, the spectators were allowed right up close to the cars (within 2 metres) as they approached a 90 degree left hander over a fast downhill section. Several drivers (Solberg P, Ogier, Loeb) cut the corner, nonchalantly putting the car on two wheels as they did so at an insane speed which I can only say defied the laws of physics. Both leading Fords were missing front guards, in Latvala’s case a lucky escape from an altercation with a barbed wire fence which nearly ended his rally. Poor old Ken Block was out of the rally already – not even 10 kms into the first stage, victim of hard tyres on slippery clay roads which some of the competitors described as like a dog trying to walk on wet lino. Wimps, I say. Let ‘em run the next WRC in the Heathcote area after a big deluge. Then they’ll find out what “trees close to road” and “slippery clay” really means. In reality these Coffs Harbour roads looked superb. Big wide shire roads (like Bega) with the trees well off the road, and the road surface hardly cutting up at all. How hard could it be?  After watching the rest of the field go through we went back to the service area at the airport. If you have never been to a WRC before, service is also a must. It is incredible to think of the logistics involved in getting these factory WRC teams to an event, and the humongous set ups involved. We watched Ken Block’s Fiesta being unloaded from the back of the truck, looking rather sad. You can get an idea of how hard he hit a rock at the side of the road from the fact that the rear brake disc was cracked in half. No problem, after a few bazillion dollars worth of new brakes, panels, suspension etc, Ken’s car was good as gold again. Next casualty into the service park was Loeb’s Citroen DS which he had rolled multiple times (an event which occurs about frequently as Footscray winning a grand final). Due to the unusual nature of this event, as the car came in on the back of the truck, the entire Ford service team rushed over to see it, madly trying to photograph some of the Citroen secrets, and duly being shooed away by the Citroen team. Later in the day we heard that Ogier had also gone out, leaving the rally as a lay-down misere for the Ford team, which they subsequently capitalised on. Final interesting site at the service park was a bored and solitary Japanese Honda engineer at Eli Evans tent. Poor guy. Anybody could have told him that no Honda VTEC engine has ever broken, and you could drive one from here to Pluto and back on the rev limiter and it wouldn’t even use a teaspoon of oil.   Next day (the Saturday) we headed down the Pacific Highway to Nambucca Heads to watch SS11, the Talarm Hall stage. We kindly let Novikov’s Fiesta have right of way into a roundabout, and duly followed him about 65 kms down the road which was a delight to see and hear. I thought how nice it was that Novikov had managed to keep his Fiesta intact on the slippery Friday when Loeb and Ogier had crashed. I spoke to soon, but here is a camera phone shot from the car (possibly one of the last) of the Novikov WRC Fiesta still intact on the Saturday as we drove behind it.Now here is the same car after the “Plum Pudding” stage, later that day. Possibly this helps to understand why Dale Moscatt declined further participation as Evgeny’s co-driver in the WRC. rally20113Novikov rated this accident as the biggest of his career, blaming the crash on an incorrect pace note. Before the rally, his co-driver Giraudet had said about the  stages “It’s really something special, very fast with a lot of cuts. The trees are very close to the road and when you hit a tree on your door it’s not so friendly but it’s part of the game. You can’t cut all the trees.” Now I don’t know about you, but if my co-driver said to me that hitting a tree on your door was all “part of the game”, I would be a bit anxious. And I would have thought that you couldn’t cut any of the trees, but maybe I’m just old-fashioned. Given that Novikov’s Fiesta was probably worth many hundreds of thousands of dollars, and given his tendency to crash, I wondered who Novikov’s deep-pocketed sponsor “ALM Russia” was. I googled it, and got onto a Russian site called “Automatic Love Matching”, a place for many young Svetlanas, Olgas, Natashas and so on, all anxiously seeking Western gentlemen. So perhaps the cost of wrecking so many Fiestas is easily borne via “rally love” after all. Anyway, I digress. The Talarm Hall stage was a beauty with the cars coming around a fast right hander up a hill and into a fast 90 degree left hander. Petter Solberg was driving on the ragged edge. The Fords (Hirvonen and Latvala) were cruising along comfortably in the lead, while Loeb and Ogier were trying to play catch up. Tidiest looking driver was Matthew Wilson (Fiesta), with both he and the “The Sheikh” (Al Qassimi, Fiesta) having their best events and placings yet. Prize for“testicles out” driving went to the Porsche 911 in the classics field driven by Jeff David Probably not exactly a cheap car, but being driven with great verve and gusto. We left on Saturday afternoon, delighted to have been part of such a spectacular event, and with the mid coast NSW towns all strongly behind the event generating a lot of good vibes around the place. Great to see lots of kids and dads standing out on the Pacific Highway in the morning to watch the rally cars go by on their liaison stages. If you get a chance to see it in 2013, and have not been to a WRC recently, I can’t recommend it highly enough. RESULTS (Happily for fans of the Blue Oval, and great result from Hayden Paddon in 6th ):
Pos No Driver   GroupClass StageTime Penalties TotalTime DiffPrev Diff1st
1 3 M. HIRVONEN M A0 3:35:59.0 0.0 3:35:59.0 0.0 0.0
2 4 J. LATVALA M A0 3:36:13.7 0.0 3:36:13.7 +14.7 +14.7
3 11 P. SOLBERG M A0 3:36:43.8 0.0 3:36:43.8 +30.1 +44.8
4 5 M. WILSON M A0 3:44:44.2 0.0 3:44:44.2 +8:00.4 +8:45.2
5 10 K. AL QASSIMI M A0 3:48:32.3 0.0 3:48:32.3 +3:48.1 +12:33.3
6 38 H. PADDON P A0 3:53:08.3 20.0 3:53:28.3 +4:56.0 +17:29.3
  - Bill Hunter

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