Rally Australia – Hirvonen wins, Loeb Rolls, Paddon Champion

The all new Rally Australia was based in coff’s harbour and the new event was very much welcome to the area. The stages were described as a mix of new Zealand and Finland, due to the high speed, cambered and technical layout of the stages. However the New south Wales event in Australia on day 1, was more a comparison to South wales for Rally GB.

Photo: D.Darrall

The conditions were unlike anything the drivers had seen before, as the rain came down, along with the temperature, it soaked the stages, turning Rally Australia into a mud bath. These tough conditions caught out the best drivers in the world, including the 7 times World champion Sebastien Loeb, who went too fast into a right-hander and rolled the DS3 5 times. This put his team mate sebastien Ogier in the perfect position to fight, not only for the win, but also for the championship and could set his place in the team. After mid-day service the young frenchman was leading, but threw it all away when he hit a tree and damaged the radiator, coursing retirement number 2 for Citroen before day 1 had even ended. Not only did this ruin his championship campaign to beat his team mate, it also put him in the position where, he was no longer equal status in the team. After a season long inter-team rivalry between the two Seb’s, Ogier would now have to play the team game and number 2 driver to Sebastien Loeb.

Mean while, this was a golden opportunity for the 2 Fords. As Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala took 1st and 2nd place, Petter Solberg was up to 3rd. The other big names to hit trouble were Evgeny Novikov and Ken block, who also crashed out into retirement due to the tricky conditions.

Day 2, was much better and drier, though there were still some damp patches. The Citroen boys were on a mission to try and get back some points, aiming for at least 10th after super-rally. the ford boys had a no risk driver, though jari-Matti set great pace and grabbed the lead from team mate Mikko Hirvonen. Petter managed to keep it clean in 3rd. But in 4th place was Matthew Wilson, doing a great job heading the Fords Stobart team, doing exactly what he needed which was to just survive and get to the end, although setting good pace with it. Abu Dhabi Ford driver Al-Qassimi was in his highest position yet in 5th. Further down in the PWRC class, New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon was looking to claim the title after 3 wins this season and was on course to get it with over a minute lead. But the turbo pipe on his Subaru had broke, and the Kiwi dropped time and power, luckily he only lost one position, and was able to ‘rally hard’ to re-gain the top spot after the problem was fixed at mid-day service, showing what a great driver and team can do.

Photo: D.Darrall

Day 3 for most of the crews was all about getting to the end and scoring maximum points for the championship. Mikko Hirvonen and Jari Matti Latvala were still on the top two places. Ford swapped them around to ensure Hirvonen got the maximum points for his drivers title fight, making the most out of Citroen’s disaster on day 1. With Loeb in 10th and only scoring one point, Ford had to take full advantage, and possibly put them back into the championship challenge. On the second to last stage, Latvala slowed to allow his team mate though to get the win.

There was still plenty of action further down the field, Novikov returned after retiring on day 1, and a roll on shakedown. He finished the rally on stage 22 in the same way he started, althought his Semi-works Fiesta certainly didn’t resemble the shape that its started with, as he rolled the car 5 times, flat out in 6th gear,

Several drivers stopped at the scene of the crash 7.3 kilometres into the ‘Plum pudding’ test north of the Coffs Harbour service park with a number expressing their shock at the severity of the accident. The russian claims that it was the biggest crash of his career both got away uninjured. Anther driver to experience the view of the stage from the roof of his car instead of on the wheels, was the ever flamboyant henning Solberg, who came too fast into a fast right bend and rolled the car on to its roof. After picking up a few dents he managed to continue once back on 4 wheels. But on the final Power stage, the re-run of the stage he rolled on, he once again drove flat out, and gave the Aussie spectators and the people at home watching the Live broadcast of the stage, some great action. Driving to fast into a series of bends, the car bounces off either sides of the banks as he slides wide puncturing both rear tyres.

Sebastien loeb finished the rally in 10th and won the power stage for 3 extra points for the championship. Further up to the next WRC car, Abu Dhabi driver Al-Qassimi finished in a career best 5th place, with Stobarts Mathew Wilson in a great 4th place. The Norwegian of Petter Solberg was back on form this weekend, and ended the rally on the bottom step of the podium. But the glory finally went to Ford. putting an end to Citroen’s winning streak. Jari-matti Latvala was the fastest man of the rally, but played the team game to finish 2nd, with Mikko winning Rally Australia for the 3rd time in a row.

There was more Glory down the field. Finishing the rally in an amazing 6th place overall due to the lack of WRC cars at the end and once again winning the Production World Rally Championship class, was Hayden Paddon. After anther stunning performance, fighting to the end, he claims the title with 2 rallies to go, Perfect Paddon continued his 100% victory rate for this season to finish Rally Australia as Production world rally Champion.

Photo:D.Darrall

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