Rally numbers add up
CONSIDERING the size of the final field for Rally Australia that is being held on the Coffs Coast next month, the chances of local drivers having a rally car pull up next to them at the traffic lights have increased dramatically.
There will be 101 cars starting in the Rally which will be staged from September 8 to 11.
While most spectators will be clamouring for a look at the world's best drivers, the size of the field is evidence that the event is much bigger than just the 31 starters, including 25 from overseas, lining up in round 10 of the 2011 FIA World Rally Championship.
Companion events have lifted the total entries to the most for an Australian Championship Rally in recent years.
Round four of the Bosch Australian Rally Championship has attracted 43 cars from around the country and the Coffs Coast Classic Rally will start 27 cars.
When Rally Australia general manager Michael Masi addressed a Chamber of Commerce breakfast recently he said that even residents who had little interest in the rally could still inadvertently see a slice of the action.
Masi said when a WRC round was held in 2009 on the Northern Rivers, one of the biggest surprises for locals was the proximity to the drivers.
Coffs Coast motorists should expect to see world-class rally cars pull up alongside them at the lights as they drive on main roads between race sections.
“When the WRC was held in the Northern Rivers, that was the main thing that struck them,” Masi said.
“They were surprised to see a guy wearing a helmet take off as he was making his way to the next stage.”
Rally Australia's sporting chief, clerk of course Dr Michelle Gatton, said the large number of cars heading for the Coffs Coast promised a feast of world-class motorsport for spectators.
“This is really something to look forward to. The absolute best rally drivers from overseas and Australia will be here in just 20 days and the action will be unforgettable,” Gatton said.
“Our own target was to achieve 100 entries and we have done that even after a couple of late withdrawals.
“It is an excellent result that should encourage a big crowd of spectators.”
Rally Australia chairman Ben Rainsford welcomed the big Australian contingent heading for the Coffs Coast.
“The Australian rally community has stepped up to play a big part in this event,” Rainsford said.
“Not only are the teams demonstrating the healthy state of the sport in this county, they are also taking the opportunity to participate in a world-standard rally event on their own doorstep and to enjoy the privilege of competing alongside the world's best drivers from the WRC.”
Heading the international entry list are seven-time world champion Sebastien Loeb and fellow Frenchman Sebastien Ogier, from the Citroen team, and their Ford team rivals, Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala, both from Finland.
Loeb is currently leading the WRC drivers' standings from Hirvonen, who won Rally Australia in 2009.
The 2007 Formula 1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) and 2003 World Rally Champion Petter Solberg (Norway) have lodged privateer Citroen entries.
Ford will be hoping its strong line-up is enough to break a seven-round winning streak for the Citroen DS3 WRC car.
Lining up for the Blue Oval side in Ford Fiesta RS WRCs are Henning Solberg (Norway), Matthew Wilson (UK), Ken Block (USA), Khalid al Qassimi (United Arab Emirates), Evgeny Novikov (Russia) and Peter van Merksteijn (Holland).
BMW-owned Mini, a new WRC entrant in 2011, is represented by Brazilian privateer Daniel Oliveira.
Seven Australian teams are in the final WRC field.
The top-seeded Australian is WRC Academy regular Brendan Reeves, from Wedderburn, Victoria.
Local driver Nathan Quinn has won a wildcard entry to the Production Car World Rally Championship division which will field entries from 11 international crews.