THE FIELD is set and a 320-kilometre course in prime condition awaits a flat-out finale to the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) at Kennards Hire Rally Australia – with stages in the Nambucca and Bellingen shires next week.
The four-day thriller, officially starting on Thursday November 16, will see 78 crews and cars, including 18 internationals, tackle 21 stages on forestry and rural roads north and south of the Coffs Harbour event base.
Wrapping up the most exciting and unpredictable WRC season in more than a decade, the 25th Rally Australia will welcome newly-confirmed five-time World Champion Sébastien Ogier atop a list of 11 of the planet’s fastest rally drivers in outright contention.
Nine of the 11 are World Rally winners and all are driving the spectacularly-fast new-era Ford, Hyundai, Toyota and Citroën cars that have turned this year’s competition on its head.
The internationals will be complemented by 58 crews contesting finals of the Australian Rally Championship and NSW and Queensland State series, all together making Kennards Hire Rally Australia the year’s biggest and fastest event of its kind.
While M-Sport Ford pilot Ogier will be freed of championship considerations for a no-holds attack on Rally Australia, Thierry Neuville (Hyundai) and Ott Tänak (M-Sport) promise an intense contest for second place in the series.
The CAMS Australian Rally Championship also will feature a showdown, with defending title-holder Molly Taylor hoping to hold off close rival and local hero Nathan Quinn.
Rally Australia chairman Ben Rainsford says everything is primed for an exciting event.
“We’re ready to host an event of true World Championship quality,” he said.
“All-new roads on Friday and updates to the itinerary on Saturday and Sunday hold a challenge worthy of these amazing drivers and their cars - and plenty of thrills for spectators.
“The Destination NSW Super Special Stage has some new features and the daytime stages are looking beautiful after recent rains. State Forests comprise around 75 per cent of the stages and the Forestry Corporation of NSW has put enormous effort into presenting the roads and the spectator areas in great condition.
“We’re proud to be welcoming back Sébastien Ogier as the second-most successful driver in WRC history. Seb won his fifth FIA World Championship less than a fortnight ago – incidentally, on the same day Lewis Hamilton won his fourth in Formula 1 – and I’ve no doubt he’ll want to reinforce his supremacy with victory here.
“That won’t be easy. Nine drivers line up with World Rally wins to their credit and with an incredible seven different winners alone this season, who's to say there won’t be an eighth on the Coffs podium on Sunday-week?
“Anything can happen. Being the final round this is everyone’s last chance for a result. Flat-out is sure to be the strategy for everyone.”
The high-flying WRC action starts with the first special stage, Pilbara 1, at 8.13am on Friday. After the final, live-televised stage from Wedding Bells State Forest at 1.18pm on Sunday, crews will return to Coffs Harbour for the official Podium ceremony at 3.30pm.
Dedicated spectator parks will offer accessible, comfortable and safe viewing every day. Self-print tickets remain on sale up to the event at ticketek.com or can be bought at the gate.
Kennards Hire Rally Australia this year will feature an expanded program of free public attractions designed to give fans a taste of rally atmosphere wherever they are.
The popular Rally Show and ceremonial start on Thursday and podium presentation on Sunday in the Coffs Harbour main street will be complemented by a packed line-up of entertainment from Thursday to Sunday in the competitors’ service park at C.ex Coffs International Stadium.
Highlights include meet-the-crews sessions, live bands, fireworks, souvenir shops, trade displays and plenty of food and drinks.