World champion Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) cruised through the final day to clinch his record-equalling sixth win of the season. It is a landmark he now shares with fellow Frenchman Didier Auriol. He won by 1min 55.1sec from Harri Rovanpera (Peugeot), whose only difficulty came early this morning when the Finn chose tyres that were too soft for the conditions. Behind Duval, fourth place for Mikko Hirvonen (Subaru) equalled his career-best performance. Australian driver Chris Atkinson claimed fifth. Fellow countryman Dean Herridge was on course for sixth until he retired on the penultimate stage, allowing Xavier Pons to move up. Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot), who restarted under the SupeRally regulations after crashing yesterday, rolled heavily on the penultimate stage. Briton Niall McShea won the Production Car world title after Scot Alister McRae retired from the lead four stages from the finish.
Fifty-one of the original 62 competitors left Perth parc ferme at 0530hrs this morning. Nineteen of those had re-started after retiring on Legs one or two
Leg three included six stages and 127.83 competitive kilometres. Crews contested two stages east of the single service park in Perth and four stages to the south
Conditions were warm and sunny all day. Temperatures started at 24 degrees rising to 31 degrees by midday. Stages were dry gravel
After sewing up both world crowns in Corsica, Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their trusty Xsara WRC clinched another resounding victory today in Perth. The result takes the number of wins secured by the pair during the 2004 season to six, which equals the score of Didier Auriol, the first Frenchman to become World Champion exactly ten years ago.
Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: "Carlos said that he wanted to be greeted in Madrid with the news that we had won. Once again, you gave us a perfect car which meant we were able to make that happen. Thanks to everyone!" "Although the two titles were already in the bag, the team gave another demonstration of its ability and professionalism," added Guy Frequelin. "They remained perfectly motivated. I'm very proud of every one of them!"
Carlos Sainz / Marc Marti: Did not start
Subaru's Mikko Hirvonen delivered a solid performance at the wheel of his Subaru Impreza WRC2004 today to finish Rally Australia in fourth-place overall and match his career-best WRC result. Continuing to drive under the FIA re-start system, 2003 World Champion Petter Solberg won four of the day's six stages and once again demonstrated the speed and reliability of the Impreza on the unique and challenging road surface. Subaru also celebrated success as the driving force behind the winners of the FIA Production Cup series. After a thrilling finale on today's stages, Britain's Niall McShea clinched the World Production Cup Championship title in an Impreza WRX, while Japan's Toshi Arai, also driving a Subaru Impreza WRX, was second.
Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: Once we went out of the rally and weren't able to win, our objectives changed and we concentrated on testing, as well as having a bit of fun on the stages. I must say, the roads are fantastic, they're very tricky but you get such a good feeling when everything works well. We've learned a lot that will help us in the future - on the long road section back to final service Phil spent the whole trip noting down all the things we had worked on and how they performed. For sure it's good to get second place in the Championship, but the only reason we do this is to win and we're already working hard to be ready for January when we start all over again.
Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen: I was aiming to finish the season with a podium result, but although I just missed out on that, I'm still quite happy with fourth. I haven't had the best road position for this event and that certainly made things difficult, but it also helped me learn how best to control the car on this very loose surface. I think you need at least three of four attempts here to find the top speed, especially through the narrow forest stages. But I've learned a lot for the future, it's one of the best rallies in the season and I'm looking forward to coming back.
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot ended the FIA World Rally Championship season with a podium finish in Australia today. The Belgians finished third on Rally Australia in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. It was their fifth podium of the season and the BP-Ford squad's 14th during the 16-rally championship.
Markko Martin / Michael Park: Retired with engine problem
Francios Duval / Stephane Prevot: Duval moved into third early yesterday morning and was never challenged. He cruised through today's six speed tests, the bulk of which were based in the Sotico tree plantation, south-east of Perth, with no problems. "I altered the suspension settings early this morning and they turned out to be too hard so I changed back to softer settings again for the Sotico tests," said 23-year-old Duval. "We were third in the start order again today and so there was loads of loose gravel on the roads in Sotico. It was hard to see a clean driving line and we were just sweeping the stones away on the first pass through the tests. The second time through was better and easier. "It has been a very long and difficult rally but it's great to finish the year with a podium place. It was an unexpected result for us because we don't have much experience here. We set out with the aim of not taking any risks and that paid off. Once we reached third yesterday morning, there were big gaps both in front and behind us so there was nothing to gain by attacking. We weren't happy with our pace notes last year so we made many changes during practice and that brought some big improvements. "The most difficult part of the weekend has been our position in the start order. A driver lying third would normally expect a much lower, and therefore much better, starting position. But because there were so many retirements we spent two days third in the start order, sweeping the gravel away for those behind. I have not had a good feeling on the stages," added Duval.
Peugeot driver Harri Rovanpera has finished the final day of the Rally Australia and 2004 World Rally Championship in a strong second place overall, scoring valuable points for himself and Peugeot. The Finn ran rapidly and reliably all day, underlining a solid performance in which his 307WRC was faultless throughout all three legs of the event. Australia is one of the toughest rallies on the entire championship, characterised by warm temperatures in excess of 30 degrees centigrade and fast and flowing gravel roads. His team mate Marcus Gronholm led the rally until the second morning, setting five fastest stage times. Unfortunately, the Finn was forced to retire after skating off the road and into some trees. Although the accident damage was not excessive, he was unable to start the engine because the impact had trapped the alternator belt. Nonetheless, Marcus was able to re-start the final day under the trial of the 'super rally' system but he crashed out on SS24.
Marcus Gronholm / Timo Rautiainen: "What happened on the second day was a real pity," he said. "The ride height on our car was too low, so we just caught the sump guard on some ruts and we couldn't steer so we went off. I'm very disappointed, because our car clearly had the speed and reliability to win here. But the main thing is that all the hard work with the 307 WRC is beginning to pay off. We finally have a car that is quick and will also be reliable. That's a very good sign for next year, when we are going to be pushing flat-out in order to win the championship!"
Harri Rovanpera / Risto Pietilainen: "It's been a very good rally for us. The main thing is that the car has been very reliable, which has allowed us to push with confidence and fight at the front. We've had no problems at all on this rally, apart from a couple of small mistakes which cost us a little bit of time. Today was quite a tough day because of the high temperatures and tricky stages, but we just concentrated on keeping our position. After a difficult year, it is good to end on a positive note!"