Third world title beckons for Ogier
Frenchman bids to secure third drivers’ title
This year almost 10 per cent of the stages are new, with a trio of fresh tests on Friday and a host of other tweaks to last year's itinerary. So what is the new route like to drive? We jumped into the WRC recce car to take a look. Here's what we saw:
1) Open farmland
In general, the Australian stages fall into two categories; open farmland or forestry, in a roughly 50/50 split. Drivers will encounter farmland first as this is the base for Friday's opening three stages. Most of Saturday's roads also fall into this category. The farmland roads tend to be open and flowing with a good, firm base and a little loose gravel on top. In places they resemble the stages of Rally New Zealand. Two good examples are SS9/11 Nambucca (main picture) and SS2/6 Bakers Creek (below).
A completely different challenge to the open stages, the forest roads are generally narrower and more tight and twisty. Some corners are hidden behind blind crests and a leafy canopy overhead can cause long shadows that make the roads hard to read. This year's route passes through four state forests of the Coffs Coast: Wedding Bells, Lower Bucca, Orara East (Settles Stage) and Newry. Delayed by late winter rains, the New South Wales Forestry Corporation re-prepared the roads only a few weeks ago and they are in excellent condition. The photo below is from Friday's Newry Long (SS4/8). Pictured beneath that is part of a 4km forest section in the middle of Saturday's Nambucca stage (SS9/11).
3) Latvala's bridge
Jari-Matti Latvala was sent into a spin in 2013 when he clipped this narrow bridge on the flying finish of the Nambucca stage. Last year the stage was shortened by 600 metres, so the bridge wasn't included, but this time it has been extended by one kilometre and the bridge is back in.
4) Mailbox return
Last year Thierry Neuville lost his Hyundai's front bumper in a collision with a mailbox in the Valla stage (SS10/SS12). This is the replacement mailbox. Its owners have wisely located it about a metre further away from the road.
5) Meeke's corner
Kris Meeke was given a penalty last year for cutting a corner near the finish of the Valla stage. To prevent a repeat, organisers have added two large bales to the inside of the corner and errected fences on the infield.
6) Speed record?
Run once on Sunday, the Settles Rd stage (SS15) is likely to be the fastest of the rally and has potential to be the fastest of the season. At only 6.4km in length it is the shortest stage of the rally and with around 5.8km resembling the picture below it will be over in a flash.