Best of the best WRC drivers confirmed for Coffs
A red-hot line-up featuring 11 of the fastest rally cars in the world has been confirmed for next month's Kennards Hire Rally Australia on the Coffs Coast.
A total of 34 cars with crews representing 12 countries from Finland to Japan are on the official entry list for the FIA World Rally Championship closing round.
The full field for the November 16-19 event is likely to almost double when entries for the CAMS Australian Rally Championship and State Championship supporting rounds close on Friday.
The 11 overseas-entered, new-era World Rally cars and their drivers are expected to produce thrilling battles on the rural and forestry stages north and south of Coffs Harbour as final placings for the season are decided.
Introduced at the start of 2017, the more powerful, lighter, louder, wider, more aerodynamic, wilder and faster WRC cars have blown the championship wide open, delivering wins to six different drivers and each of the manufacturer teams from Toyota, M-Sport (Ford), Hyundai and Citroën.
With former team Volkswagen now gone from the WRC, Andreas Mikkelsen will defend his 2016 Rally Australia title in a Hyundai i20 Coupe alongside Thierry Neuville and Kiwi Hayden Paddon. Britain's privately-run M-Sport team has entered Ford Fiesta WRCs for World Champion Sébastien Ogier, Ott Tänak and Elfyn Evans.
Toyota will be represented in Yaris WRCs by Jari-Matti Larvala and 2016 WRC2 World Champion Esapekka Lappi, while Kris Meeke, Craig Breen and Stephane Lefebvre will drive Citroên C3 WRCs. Greek privateer Jourdan Serderidis has entered a 2016-specification Citroën DS3 in the WRC Trophy class.
The total of 12 outright contenders for the European-based WRC's most distant event will be complemented in the supporting classes by six more all-international crews and 16 from Australia.
Former WRC Academy driver and US Two-Wheel Drive Rally Champion Brendan Reeves is the top-seeded Australian in a non-FIA-homologated car, starting in 20th position in a New Zealand-built Mazda2 AP4.
He'll be challenged by three-time Australian champion Eli Evans (Mini Cooper AP4), Harry Bates (Toyota Yaris AP4) and home-town hero Nathan Quinn, who is also bidding to win the national championship in a Mitsubishi Lancer.
Rally Australia spectators are in for a feast of the world's best motorsport, says the event's sporting chief, Clerk of Course Wayne Kenny.
"We'll have as many outright cars on the Coffs stages as did Rally Mexico, one of the biggest events in the WRC, and I predict the competition will be even more intense than it was then," he said.
"Drama and unpredictability are always waiting in the wings in the WRC and with Kennards Hire Rally Australia being the last round the race for final season positions will go down to the wire.
"Above all, the new WRC cars are simply awesome with their speed, their sound and their looks, especially with the best drivers in the world at the wheel."
Rally Australia will challenge drivers with 21 mostly-gravel special stages over almost 320 kilometres.
Saturday's 49 km Nambucca stage is one of the WRC's longest and most popular with drivers.
The 1.27 km tarmac Destination NSW Super Special Stage is the shortest at Rally Australia, but promises exciting twilight action for spectators in an amphitheatre-style setting flanked by the Pacific Ocean and Coffs Harbour.
Many free attractions around the Coffs Harbour event base will add to the family-friendly fun of the rally weekend.
The Rally Show and Ceremonial Start on Thursday and Podium Presentation Ceremony on Sunday in the city centre traditionally draw thousands of fans, while the competitors' Service Park at C.ex International Stadium will feature everything from driver autograph sessions to music concerts, fireworks and a $5000 cash giveaway.
Tickets are on sale now at www.ticketek.com, with a 2-for-1 offer on a $99 three-day pass available until 31 October.