Rally drivers flirt with danger

IF the FIA is still unsure about whether the WRC should return to the Coffs Coast in 2013 - after the event moves to New Zealand next year - they need only look to the reaction of fans and drivers during the last four days of spectacular action.

After a weekend of wreckage and world-class driving in tough conditions, Rally Australia - Coffs Coast has inflicted more damage on the WRC rally cars than any other event this season.

The highlight reel, full of high-speed crashes, near misses and picturesque Australian countryside, speaks for itself.

Many of the WRC teams have dubbed it the most challenging, dramatic and spectacular of the WRC rounds in many years.

The destruction seen on the Coffs Coast stages has sent the rallying world in rapture.

Sebastian Loeb's roll-over on the Eastern Dorrigo tracks on Friday is fast becoming the most viewed rally video online.

Ken Block's high-speed crash into a tree is just as popular, along with footage of Evgeny Novikov's accident yesterday which was "the biggest of his career."

The flying Russian careered off the Plum Pudding stage, north-west of Woolgoolga, at more than 200kmh.

His Ford Fiesta was in sixth gear at the time and rolled five times into a heavy bush.

Both he and co-driver Denis Giraudet were lucky to avoid injury.

"It was a fast left corner and that tightened a little bit over a crest but in my pace notes it was flat but it was not flat unfortunately," Novikov said.

"We went too wide and onto two wheels and started to roll. It was a mistake from recce for us.

"There was nothing we could do as the car just rolled into trees from flat out in sixth gear.

"We are both okay, but I think that was the biggest crash I have ever had," he said.

A number of drivers, including Sebastien Ogier, who stopped at the scene, expressed shock at the severity of the accident.

"We finished the stage slowly, it's difficult when you see a heavy crash like that," Ogier said.

Seven-time world champion Loeb's moment came on the slippery clay on Friday when his Citroen rolled five times.

Block, meanwhile, collected a tree and crippled a rear wheel, while Ogier spun-off and smashed his radiator in the scrub.

Flirting with danger all weekend, Novikov hit a roadside boulder during Friday's stages.

Even Rally Australia's fastest Finns, Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen and Norwegian privateer Petter Solberg vouched for the driver difficulty.

Solberg's older brother Henning was another to roll yesterday in the rally where the panel beaters, engineers and mechanics earned their pay.

"These were very difficult stages to be honest," Latvala said.

"The conditions were hell and I'm just happy to be here. This was one of the most difficult I have had in my career," Hirvonen said.

Petter Solberg sounded just as relieved to get through Rally Australia relatively unscathed.

"I've never driven in conditions like this before, it has been unbelievable," Solberg said.

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