The weather is hotting up in Perth today, and that is not all that is hotting up! The action during the shakedown phase of Telstra Rally Australia has been full of intrigue for the top crews. The run around Langley Park for the media and assembled sponsors turned out to be harder than expected, while the shakedown on the short Langford Park stage south of Perth gave some clues to the various team's preparation.
Tommi Makinen was the first to hit trouble. The track watering system (designed to kept the dust down during the stage) was also being tested. This made one corner in particular very slippery and soggy indeed. The inside hairpin at the western end of Langley Park saw Tommi have a slight off into the barrier, and then re appear later in the practice car. This had nothing to do with the hit though, as the team didn't want to risk damaging the designated rally car. Francois Delecour took the corner with a lot of care and the SEAT of Toni Gardemeister smacked the concrete bollard on the inside of the same corner, knocking the driving light off on the right hand side of the car but causing no damage. Traction in an F2 car was at a premium on this corner as you can imagine!
The other driver's championship contender, TTE's Didier Auriol has had some trouble setting up the Corolla to his liking, having a similar problem to the one he experienced in Finland, while teammate Carlos Sainz has spent a lot of time swapping between his designated rally car and the practice car during both tests, some of his concerns appear to surround the power of the engine. The Ford team's test car now sports a large dent in the rear quarter and it leads into the front right hand door, but it is unclear which particular driver caused the damage!
The 'local' crews appear to have had a reasonable leadup to the rally, with TTA's Neal Bates and Coral Taylor completing two days of successful testing on the WA roads last week prior to the recce. They are lookign forward to a great run in the Corolla, and their main rival Possum Bourne is fighting the 'flu, but he still threw the Impreza WRC98 around Langley Park last night with gusto. Ed Ordynski meanwhile has had a quiet leadup to the rally, with the car he has driven all year seeded ahead of the Impreza of Michael Guest and David Green. Rally of Canberra winner Yoshihiro Kataoka hit the same barrier that Makinen hit with the same result, so both the European and Australian/ Japanese Ralliart crews had a late and busy night last night.
Neil Blackbourn Australian Rally Championship http://www.rally.com.au