THE AT-TIMES controversial Valla stage of the Rally Australia has been scrapped – but the organisers are promising all-new competitive legs on the opening day and several other changes designed to increase the excitement for drivers and spectators at the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship finale in November.
The 25th Australian WRC event will be staged on mostly gravel shire and forestry roads on the Coffs Coast on November 16-19.
However the Valla stage, which ran through Newee Creek, will not be among them.
This leg has been the cause of some angst in the past two years. In the 2015, it was the course for a rare night-time event, however a number of drivers panned the experience, saying dust reduced visibility to near zero.
And last year, some residents on Newee Creek Rd, said to be the shire’s busiest dirt road, were less than thrilled with the impact of the rally and the disruption of closed roads.
While the Valla stage will now be something just for memory, Kennards Hire Rally Australia has confirmed that the Nambucca Valley will retain a strong part of the 2017 racing.
The fastest rally drivers in the world and outright teams representing Toyota, Hyundai, Ford (M-Sport) and Citroën will contest 21 special stages covering 318.16 kilometres.
The Friday’s stages will move from south of the Coffs Harbour rally base to the north, the most distant being Sherwood, near Glenreagh, around 40km north of Coffs.
Pilbara (9.7km), Eastbank (18.9km) and Sherwood (26.6km) will be run in the morning and repeated in the afternoon.
They were reviewed by Australian former Hyundai and Subaru WRC driver Chris Atkinson and have been described by event sporting staff as a great mixture of fast and open roads with some technical sections.
The Saturday racing will return to the south. The popular Nambucca stage has been shortened slightly to just under 49km for the morning pass, while in the afternoon it becomes two new stages run consecutively, Welshs Creek (33.5km) and Argents Hill (12.3km).
North of Coffs Harbour on the Sunday, the stage known formerly as Settles Reverse becomes Pilbara Reverse (10km), while Bucca and the event-closing Wedding Bells are unchanged.
Other highlights of the route, revealed with the publication of the Rally Guide 1 information document for competitors, are the return of the Destination NSW Super Special Stage at its spectacular ocean and harbourside location in Coffs Harbour on the Friday and Saturday evenings and the stadium-style Raceway SSS on Saturday morning.
Argents Hill and the second pass of Wedding Bells, as the points-paying Power Stage, will be broadcast globally on live television.
Wedding Bells will close not only Kennards Hire Rally Australia but also the 2017 WRC season and the event’s organisers are hoping spectators will see a fight to the end for the manufacturer, driver/co-driver and several other championships.
“We have seen how wild and fierce the new 2017 World Rally Cars are in the other rounds and we can’t wait to see how they perform on our Australian roads,” event chairman Ben Rainsford said.
“It’s been the most competitive WRC season in decades and we look forward to the fight between Sébastien Ogier, Thierry Neuville, Jari-Matti Latvala and others continuing all the way to Kennards Hire Rally Australia.
“The changes we have made for the 2017 route promise exciting new challenges for the drivers and a fantastic climax to the season.”
Entries for Rally Australia open on September 14, with around 70 cars from overseas and Australia expected to compete.
The event will kick off with a free ceremonial start in the centre of Coffs Harbour on Thursday November 16. Tickets to the daily, dedicated spectator points are available now at Ticketek.com.
The second annual WRC Gala and Awards night hosted by Rally Australia will close the season in glamorous style at Sydney’s harbourside Museum of Contemporary Art on Monday November 20.