Rally Australia 2018 – The Title Decider!

Photo credit – M-Sport Ford

Well, what a year we’ve had! Just the final round left, but what a humdinger we are set for! Three crews can win this weekend. Ott Tanak is the outsider, given that he is 23 points from Ogier. However, I believe he will win the rally and quite possibly the powerstage. Now Thierry and Seb are the two of the three that are most likely to win the championship, and their chances will come down to how the cars feel on the stages.

Can Ott Tanak jump past Thierry and Seb to win his first WRC Title? Photo credit, M-Sport.

Given that the teams cannot test outside of Europe, shakedown will be really important, particularly for the Hyundai team. The car they have built is very quick as long as the set-up is spot on. M-Sport have a very good car, and they have been very good this year. However, if Thierry can get the car as he liked it in Rally Italia, we know how that Sunday finished. All he has to do, which he mentioned in my interview with him last week, is score four more points than Seb, and he will be the champion.

Thierry Neuville shares his thoughts on his year (so far) and his title hopes.

The challengers will be looking to their teammates to get in the mix and take points away from their rivals, which makes the job of Elfyn, Teemu, Andreas, Hayden, Jari-Matti and Esapekka even more important.

Finally, Toyota and Hyundai are fighting for the manufacturers title, and it is Toyota’s to win, as they sit at the top. A quite remarkable feat, given it’s only their second year back!

Well, let’s take a look at the stages that they have to tackle. A total of 316km’s of stages are ahead of them, and they have very tricky small stones covering the roads. If dry, the dust can hang in the air, plus the road cleaning becomes very significant.

RALLY AUSTRALIA SCHEDULE (GMT+11)

THURSDAY 15 NOVEMBER

8.00am: Shakedown (5,07 km)

 

FRIDAY 16 NOVEMBER

7.15am: Start Coffs Harbour

8.03am: SS 1 – Orara East 1 (8,77 km)

8.43am: SS 2 – Coldwater 1 (14,12 km)

9.41am: SS 3 – Sherwood 1 (26,68 km)

11.14am: Service A (Coffs Harbour – 30 mins)

12.32pm: SS 4 – Orara East 2 (8,77 km)

1.12pm: SS 5 – Coldwater 2 (14,12 km)

2.10pm: SS 6 – Sherwood 2 (26,68 km)

5.17pm: SS 7 – Destination NSW SSS1 (1,27 km)

5.27pm: SS 8 – Destination NSW SSS2 (1,27 km)

5.57pm: Flexi service B (Coffs Harbour – 45 mins)

 

SATURDAY 17 NOVEMBER

5.50am: Service C (Coffs Harbour – 15 mins)

7.08am: SS 9 – Argents Hill Reverse 1 (13,13 km)

7.51am: SS 10 – Welshs Creek Reverse 1 (28,83 km)

8.59am: SS 11 – Urunga 1 (21,28 km)

9.47am: SS 12 – Raleigh 1 (1,99 km)

10.35am: Service D (Coffs Harbour – 30 mins)

12.08pm: SS 13 – Argents Hill Reverse 2 (13,13 km)

1.02pm: SS 14 – Welshs Creek Reverse 2 (28,83 km)

2.10pm: SS 15 – Urunga 2 (21,28 km)

2.58pm: SS 16 – Raleigh 2 (1,99 km)

5.17pm: SS 17 – Destination NSW SSS3 (1,27 km)

5.27pm: SS 18 – Destination NSW SSS4 (1,27 km)

5.57pm: Flexi service E (Coffs Harbour – 45 mins)

 

SUNDAY 18 NOVEMBER

6.00am: Service F (Coffs Harbour – 15 mins)

6.53am: SS 19 – Coramba 1 (15,55 km)

7.36am: SS 20 – Sapphire 1 (19,27 km)

8.38am: SS 21 – Wedding Bells 1 (7,16 km)

9.53am: Service G (Coffs Harbour – 30 mins)

11.01am: SS 22 – Coramba 2 (15,55 km)

11.44am: SS 23 – Sapphire 2 (19,27 km)

1.18pm: SS 24 – Wedding Bells 2 Power Stage (7,16 km)

2.20pm: Podium

Now, according to early weather reports, there is a small chance of rain on Friday and this will make the starting position very important, as it helps those at the front of the field. We shall see what happens.

 

Hear from the drivers then.

M-Sport Ford WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“The Championship could not be closer and we head to the final round in Australia with a slender three-point lead at the head of the standings. It’s a very positive place to be compared to where we were when we were 23 points behind two rallies ago, and the pressure is now on our rivals to overhaul the deficit.”

“Of course, we’re aware that opening the road will not be an easy task, but anything can happen and we are ready for the challenge. We’ve enjoyed a lot of success in Australia over the years and our goal is to add to that success next week.”

“We’re ready to do our best, ready to push for a sixth world title, and hopeful of ending what has been an enjoyable and rewarding two years with Malcolm and his team in the best possible way.”

FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP 2017 -WRC Australia (AUS) – WRC 16/11/2017 to 19/11/2017 – PHOTO : @World

Elfyn Evans

“I’ve always enjoyed Rally Australia and we’ll be aiming to bring our season to a close with another strong result next week. Following our podium in Spain, it would be great to end the year with another personal best in Australia.”

“There’s a friendly and relaxed atmosphere at this event and we’re made to feel welcome from the second we arrive in Coffs Harbour. But the event itself is a real challenge; and totally different from anything else we encounter throughout the year.”

“Visibility is often an issue and you have to have complete trust in your notes. Hanging dust isn’t uncommon and when the sun is low it can create a strobe effect through the trees which makes it difficult to read the road. The trees themselves also cast unfamiliar shadows and you really do need to be fully focused and concentrated throughout the weekend.”

“I can’t remember a more exciting time in the sport and I think everyone is excited to see what happens next week – ourselves included. We’re ready to give our best and will work hard to deliver the best possible result for the team.”

FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP 2017 -WRC Australia (AUS) – WRC 16/11/2017 to 19/11/2017 – PHOTO : @World

Teemu Suninen

“This will be my first time competing at Rally Australia, but my preparation is the same and I’ve been watching the videos to make sure we’re as prepared as we can be. I did the recce in 2016 but don’t have all the notes for this year’s stages. We’ll need to be concentrated on the recce to be ready to compete on the same level as everyone else.”

“As the last round of the season and with the championships being so close, this is also going to be a really interesting and exciting rally. Seb is still in with a strong chance of taking his sixth world title, and the team also have a chance in the manufacturers’ championship. I am ready to give everything in order to be a part of those fights and to end my season on a high.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“Recent rallies have not gone our way and we now find ourselves involved in an incredible and intense championship fight. All manufacturers and crews have had ups and downs this season, but we need to put all of this behind us and to focus on a perfect weekend in Australia. The benefit of dropping to second in the drivers’ championship is that we won’t be opening the road on the dusty gravel. It offers only a small advantage but everything counts now. We won from that position twelve months ago and we’ll be targeting the same result next weekend. That will be the best way to take the title.”

2017 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 13, Rally Australia
13-19 November 2017
Day 3
Atmosphere
Thierry Neuville, Nicolas Gilsoul
Photographer: Helena El Mokni
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Andreas Mikkelsen

“Australia has always been a good rally for us. We won there in 2016 and were leading after the opening day in 2017 with Hyundai. Unfortunately, we had to retire on the second day but we are usually very fast. I hope for another competitive run this time around. We have not had the season that we’d hoped so I want to end the year with a strong result. All eyes will be on the title fight and we will do everything in our power to support the team and Thierry.”

Hayden Paddon

“I am looking forward to being back in the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC for Rally Australia, one of the events to which we most look forward. As always, we will have fantastic support from the travelling Kiwi fans, which gives us a real boost. We finished third in the event last year to finish the season with a podium. I hope we can repeat that sort of result this time around. We’ve been building up our performance level as the season as progressed, so hopefully Australia will be the rally where we can pull the pin and really go for it. I want to end the season on a high.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Ott Tänak

“I am going to give it my all in Australia. I still have a mathematical chance in the drivers’ championship, and even though it is not really in my hands, I will keep pushing and not give up. In the manufacturers’ championship we have the advantage and I think we are in a very strong position. In particular, we can be confident in how our car has been performing on gravel over recent events. Rally Australia is always a challenging event but many of the roads are fast and flowing, and this suits us well.”

Jari-Matti Latvala

“I am really looking forward to Australia. It is a rally that I really enjoy a lot. Firstly, the atmosphere is relaxed and the weather is usually great, so it’s a nice place to end the season. Then there are the stages: they have made a lot of changes to the route this year, but we have driven most of the roads before and we know that they are usually quite fast, which is of course what I like! I am going there confident after the speed we have shown recently, and I hope to get a good result to help us to win the championship.”

FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP 2017 -WRC Australia (AUS) – WRC 16/11/2017 to 19/11/2017 – PHOTO : @World

Esapekka Lappi

“I really want to finish on a high in Australia, and to help the team to win the manufacturers’ championship. Last year, this rally for me was all about gaining experience, and hopefully I can use that to have a stronger performance this time. If the weather is dry then we know that the road sweeping will be a big challenge, as there is so much loose gravel on the surface. I got some practice running first on the road there last year, but we also found that it can rain quite heavily. Then, the grip levels can change a lot through the forests.”

 

Citroen Abu Dhabi Racing WRT

Mads Østberg

“Although I missed this round last season, I’m delighted to be competing here again, especially as I know the stages well, given that they don’t change that much from year to year. It’s a fast event, really enjoyable to drive. I’ve always been quick here, even though a bit of bad luck on occasions has meant that results haven’t always reflected my speed. I haven’t driven my C3 WRC for a little while now but I hope that I’ll adjust to it again as quickly as possible. With our road position, in theory, we have a very good chance to do something here. It’s up to us now to make the most of the opportunity.”

Craig Breen

“Although last year was my first appearance here in Australia, I had good speed on the stages, until unfortunately I got caught out by a heavy downpour on Sunday’s leg. This year, some older sections from 2014 to 2016 have been brought back into the itinerary, but I love this rally and I’ll be doing everything possible to compensate for my lack of knowledge of the stages. I have high hopes that I’ll be on the pace, as I was during the opening leg on gravel in Spain! Given that it includes parts of stages used in the rally, the shakedown is really representative, so it should help us get our bearings.”

Craig Breen made headlines last year after rolling out during Sunday’s stages. He’ll want to make the finish this year. Photo credit, Citroen Racing

Now, we are still waiting for some driver announcements, mainly about M-Sport. I don’t think we’ll hear anything about this until after the season has concluded though. The teams fighting for the titles have too much to focus on.

Well, this is going to be exciting! Enjoy!

Thierry Neuville shares his thoughts on his year (so far) and his title hopes.

Thierry Neuville took some time out for me, ahead of the WRC title deciding finale down under to answer some questions. Here is what he had to say.

Warren Nel. After your second victory of the year in Portugal, you took the lead of the championship. How satisfying was this?

Thierry Neuville. It was good to get into the lead of the championship honestly. We knew running first on the road would be more difficult after that, but still I mean for more, still being competitive, with two wins in a row was quite good, so was quite satisfying, but it makes the end of the season more difficult.

2018 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 06, Rally de Portugal 17-20 May 2018
Thierry Neuville, Nicolas Gilsoul, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

WN. Thinking back to Rally Italia Sardegna, when you caught and passed Seb Ogier for the victory on the Sunday, sum up your feelings about your performance in the car on that day.

TN. Actually, our car was working very well all day, and I was enjoying a lot, so felt comfortable heading into the last day, catching tenths by tenths, but very stressful before the last stage, obviously there were a lot of rumours about Seb losing or missing his timing card, makes it more stressful, but we kept calm, kept pushing and were able to win, so really proud of that, was actually the first time that I felt that feeling.

2018 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 07, Rally Italia Sardegna
07-10 June 2018
Photographer: Helena El Mokni
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

WN. During Rally Finland, did you look to your teammates to stop Sebastian Ogier scoring a lot of points, as you seemed to not be able to fight near the front?

2018 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 08, Rally Finland
26-29 July 2018
Thierry Neuville, Nicolas Gilsoul, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

TN. Of course I tried, but at the end they were not in a position to help me, I did the maximum I could, took the points in the powerstage. It was the only thing we could fight for as our car was really uncompetitive.

WN. Rally Turkey was a very rough event, and it led to your suspension breaking whilst in the lead at the start of Saturday. It meant that your only chance to score points was going to be in the power stage. Did you feel a lot of pressure going into that stage?

TN. Of course, you feel a lot of pressure, because every point is important, the championship fight is very close so you need to give everything you can, we did it, another five points in the power stage even if we could have easily won the rally, the car was working well on that surface, and I was going as fast as I could on the new ground, where everyone had to make new pace notes, we were just dominating, especially on the first day, being first on the road.

2017 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 10, Rally Turkey
13-16 september 2018
Thierry Neuville, Nicolas Gilsoul, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Fabien Dufour
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

WN. Which drive so far this year have you been most proud of this year?

TN. To be honest, there are plenty. We have been on it absolutely all the time, never really could release the pressure, obviously working really hard, but for sure the one to remember is Sardegna, final day.

WN. Thinking ahead to Rally Australia, an event that you won last year, you won’t be first on the road. How much of an advantage will this give you over Sebastian, and will you target victory as your best chance to win the championship?

2017 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 13, Rally Australia
16 – 19 November 2017
Thierry Neuville, Nicolas Gilsoul, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Sarah Vessely
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

TN. Obviously, yes. When you head to Australia leading the championship with only a small amount of points difference would be difficult, so now we are just behind. We need to score four more points, it’s not an easy target for sure, but I’m very sure we can do it, and really looking forward to it!

A big thank you to Thierry Neuville for his answers and many thanks to the PR at Hyundai Motorsport Nicolette Russo for her help and finally thank you Julia Paradowska, our PR for her help too.