New stages set for Rally Australia
CHALLENGING new stages on this year's Coates Hire Rally Australia will level the playing field and give more drivers a chance to lead from the first kilometres of the FIA World Rally Championship round, the event's sporting chief says.
Day one of competition on Friday, September 11 will feature three new stages, Utungun, Bakers Creek and Northbank, in the Taylors Arm area - home to the famous Pub With No Beer, west of Macksville.
Clerk of Course Adrian Stafford describes the stages as 'the greatest challenge the WRC drivers will have faced since the rally moved to the Coffs Coast in 2011".
With no driver having experience of the new roads more of the WRC field should be able to take the fight to the established front-runners, Adrian said.
Under championship regulations, the driver leading the standings - currently double world champion Sebastien Ogier - must start first on the opening day.
"They will go straight into the event on three new stages with no-one having an advantage. This breaks the rhythm of the event from previous years," Adrian said.
"The tidy-up process will mean the surface will be loose and new. I will not be at all surprised if after the first three stages at lunch on Friday we have some different results.
"These are fantastic drivers' roads through open farmland, with beautiful scenery and, more importantly, excellent vision for the drivers that will give them confidence to push hard."
He said the new stages, about 80km south of the Coffs Harbour rally service park, were part of a program to refresh the driving challenge.
"We have also retained the 50km Nambucca Special Stage on Saturday, which drivers came away from last year saying was one of the best in the WRC.
"Although shorter, I think Utungun, Bakers Creek and Northbank are even better than Nambucca - they will be thrilling for both drivers and spectators."
Rally Australia is excited about another innovation, the addition of a night stage at Valla on the Saturday.
"This will be the first time in its 24-year history that Rally Australia has run a stage at night and it has already triggered quite a bit of excitement among traditional rally fans," he said.
"With the first WRC car starting on the stage just after 6pm, spectators are going to experience something very special.
Coates Hire Rally Australia comprises 17 competitive stages over a total of 309km.
COFFS COAST event
Tickets are priced from $53 and offer dedicated viewing facilities at 10 locations.
To buy tickets - NRMAtix, via rallyaustralia.com.au
Entry will be free to the Coates Hire Rally Show and ceremonial start on Thursday, September 10, as well as the service park over that weekend and the official podium finish on the Sunday.