WRC

Rally Australia Ford Racing Preview

McRae and Ford face up to challenge Down Under After a gruelling year of round the globe travel, the Ford Martini World Rally team makes its final overseas journey of the season to one of the most difficult events in the FIA World Rally ...

McRae and Ford face up to challenge Down Under

After a gruelling year of round the globe travel, the Ford Martini World Rally team makes its final overseas journey of the season to one of the most difficult events in the FIA World Rally Championship. The Rally Australia (4-7 November), penultimate event in the 14-round series, is a firm favourite with all involved but offers one of the toughest technical challenges of the campaign for Ford drivers Colin McRae and Thomas Rådström in their Focus World Rally Cars.

McRae and co-driver Nicky Grist have plenty of experience 'down under' but Rådström and co-driver Fred Gallagher will be tackling the four-day rally for the first time together and sampling the hazards so prevalent on the dusty gravel tracks in the Western Australian countryside.

The difficulties centre on the road surface. Millions of tiny ball-bearing stones cover the tracks, making conditions very slippery. Added to this, unforgiving trees lie close to the edge of the roads, with few ditches separating track and trees to provide a safety net for those who err.

"It can be very difficult on that type of surface because once the car starts to slip and slide on the stones, it's very hard to stop it before hitting something solid," said 31-year-old McRae. "Many of the stages are quite narrow so there's not a lot of room to sort things out if you do make a mistake and slide off the driving line. The roads put a lot of emphasis on driving ability.

"I'm looking forward to the rally for several reasons. I always enjoy Australia and I think the Ford Focus should be quite suited to those stages. It has proved very stable on the fast sections during the year and in Australia there are many sections like that," added the Scot, winner of the rally in 1994 and 1997.

McRae has a reputation for being the most spectacular driver over the famous jumps in Bunnings Forest during the final leg, where the cars fly higher than at any other point in the world championship season. "It's dramatic from both the outside and the inside of the car," he said. "We're actually in fifth gear doing about 70 miles per hour when we take off and there's always a lot of air between the car and the ground.

Although Rådström has never competed on the rally, its reputation has certainly reached him. "Everyone I speak to tells me what a good rally it is on which to drive. After the disappointment of our early retirement in China, I'm keen to get back in the Focus and see for myself how tricky the stages are. The team has a full test scheduled before the rally so that should help me to become acclimatised to the car on stages similar to those used in the rally," said the Swede.

Team director Malcolm Wilson's hopes of a good run in Australia will be boosted by a revised engine in McRae's Focus. "We'll have a new specification engine for Colin which we had planned to run in Sanremo. We weren't happy with various aspects in Italy so we chose not to go ahead but since then we've addressed those matters and feel confident about using the new unit in Australia. Thomas' car will retain the same specification engine as was used in Italy," he said.

The Rally Australia features the introduction of an intriguing system designed to allow the top drivers to choose their restart position to gain the best of the road conditions for the stages. At the end of both the first and second legs the leading drivers will be invited to select their running position for the following day, the first choice going to the rally leader, followed by the second-placed driver and so on.

The small stones which cover the gravel tracks hinder the early cars who unwittingly sweep the road clear to the benefit of those running further back. By allowing the drivers to choose their restart position, it will enable them to run lower down the order and enjoy the better conditions.

Furthermore, the higher a driver's position in the overall classification, the more he is rewarded by the system. The temptation to slow down on the final stage of a leg or deliberately incur additional time penalties to drop down the leaderboard and gain a better restart position is removed under the new idea.

Based a few kilometres from the warming influence of the Indian Ocean, the rally heads into the Western Australian outback for the bulk of its stages. The opening leg travels east of Perth for stages around the historic town of York and Mundaring. The event heads south for the other two days, the second leg for tests around the small towns of Harvey and Collie with the final leg based in Bunnings Forest, where the finish will be held.

The spectacular Langley Park super special, nestling in downtown Perth on the banks of the Swan River, provides a dramatic opening to the event on the Thursday evening. Cars race each other around a purpose-built floodlit track with huge crowds roaring on their favourites around the twists and over the jumps. The stage is repeated at the end of the legs on both Friday and Saturday. Drivers face 23 stages in all, covering almost 400km in a total route of 1424km. Leg 2, containing more than 160km of stages, is the longest and most difficult of the rally, including the fearsome 45km Wellington Dam, the longest of the event. The rally ends with a short stage in Bunnings Forest, which is televised live across the Australia and which incorporates the famous jumps and watersplash.

RALLY AUSTRALIA

ROUND 13 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP, 4 - 7 NOVEMBER 1999

Thursday 4 November: Superspecial Langley Park

Start           Langley Park                    18.30
SS1             Langley Park    2.20km          18.42
Finish          Langley Park                    18.58
Total                           2.20km          

Friday 5 November: Leg 1 cont. Perth - Perth

Start           Perth                           07.00
SS2             York Railway    5.30km          08.42
SS3             Muresk 1        6.81km          09.17
SS4             Muresk 2        6.81km          09.28
SS5             Beraking       28.59km          11.21
SS6             Atkins 1        4.42km          12.17
SS7             Kevs           10.18km          13.40
SS8             Flynns         34.01km          14.04
SS9             Helena         30.05km          15.43
SS10            Atkins 2        4.42km          16.20
SS11            Langley Park 2  2.20km          19.22
Finish          Perth                           20.13
Total                         132.79km               

Saturday 6 November: Leg 2 Perth - Perth

Start           Perth                           06.00
SS12            Murray Pines 1   18.53km        07.46
SS13            Harvey Weir       8.19km        09.04
SS14            Stirling West    15.89km        10.04
SS15            Stirling East    35.48km        10.27
SS16            Wellington Dam   45.42km        12.41
SS17            Brunswick        16.63km        14.29
SS18            Murray Pines 2   18.53km        16.16
SS19            Langley Park 3    2.20km        19.29
Finish          Perth                           20.20
Total                          160.87km                 

Sunday 7 November: Leg 3 Perth - Perth

Start           Perth                           05.45
SS20            Bunnings West   35.29km         07.32
SS21            Bunnings North  36.84km         08.52
SS22            Bunnings South  25.16km         10.42
SS23            Live TV Stage    2.73km         12.30
Finish          Bunnings                        13.44
Total                          102.75km               

Rally total 398.61km

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