“Wild by nature” – it is under this motto that the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) lines up at the tenth round of the season in Australia from 12th to 15th September. For Volkswagen, the rally in the land of koalas, kangaroos and crocodiles could potentially yield another sporting milestone.
Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (F/F) come into the rally with a comfortable lead in the World Championship, but must pick up maximum points and hope that the opposition does not score too many points in order to clinch the title in Australia. They could, for example, be grateful for the assistance of their Volkswagen team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN) and Andreas Mikkelsen/Paul Nagle (N/IRL). The Rally Australia marks the return to gravel – the seventh round of the season on this surface.
“We head to Australia fully motivated,” said Volkswagen Motorsport Director Jost Capito. “After the recent disappointment at our home event, where we failed to finish on the podium for the first time this season, we are determined to get back on the podium. We still have a good chance of winning the World Championship.
I am sure our drivers, co-drivers, mechanics and engineers do not need any more motivation than that. As always in the WRC, we will have to do a perfect job. However, we have already managed that several times this season. I can assure you that everyone in the team is focussed on the task ahead and desperate to do their very best in Australia.
However, we saw in Germany that having a chance of winning the World Championship does not automatically mean you will take that opportunity. The World Rally Championship is unpredictable – that is what makes it so interesting.”
What if? Ogier’s World Championship hopes down under...
The Rally Australia provides Sébastien Ogier with his second opportunity to wrap things up. To secure the title, he must pick up nine points more than his closest rival Thierry Neuville (Ford) and one more than Volkswagen team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala. As far as the rest of the chasing pack are concerned, he need only maintain the lead he already holds. Should Ogier win both the rally and the closing Power Stage, Neuville would have to finish second in both competitions to prolong the outcome of the Drivers’ Championship.
Another possibility, if not the most likely: should Volkswagen claim its first ever one-two, with Ogier winning the rally and finishing at least second on the Power Stage, then the Frenchman would be crowned champion.
“Wild by nature”, compact and demanding: the Rally Australia
The organisers call the Rally Australia “Wild by nature”. The drivers like the fact that it is so tremendously compact. All the special stages are located within a radius of just 55 kilometres in the area surrounding the rally base at the port of Coffs Harbour. And the stages have two different faces. They may all be on gravel, but some take the drivers on closed-off public roads with a fast, flowing character, while others feature narrow, winding sections through thick forest.
Despite the low population density, the Rally Australia is guaranteed to enjoy great popularity among the fans. One reason for this are the very popular super special stages in Australia, which are staged perfectly with a major support programme, including concerts and fireworks. The “Coffs” special stage is held in the dark, right on the town’s harbour in the middle of the service park – a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean.
The beautiful “Shipmans” special stage then takes place in the undulating landscape inland of Coffs Coast. When the cars return to tackle the 29.03-kilometre stage for the second time on the Sunday, it will form both the closing stage of the rally and at the same time the Power Stage, with bonus points up for grabs for the top three drivers.
The highlight of this special stage is undoubtedly the spectacular water crossing through Tallawudjah Creek, about 4.5 kilometres into the stage. This water splash is located behind a quick left-hander, meaning most drivers hit the water in a power slide.
Latvala/Anttila and Australia – “Nordic by nature” meets “Wild by nature”
The Finnish style of driving seems perfectly suited to the conditions the drivers will encounter at the Rally Australia: quick, flowing gravel sections. The last three times Australia has featured on the WRC calendar – in 2011, 2009 and 2006 – all three victories went to Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen, who line up for Citroën this year.
And the Finnish duo of Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila, who joined Volkswagen as works drivers in 2013, can also look back on some positive results at the Rally Australia: sixth in 2006, fourth in 2009, second in 2011. They will be hoping the upward trend continues.
New territory – Mikkelsen/Nagle discover Terra Australis
The Rally Australia is a voyage of discovery for Volkswagen works driver Andreas Mikkelsen. When Mikkelsen arrives in Australia ahead of the tenth rally of the season, he will not only be making his competitive debut there, but will also be stepping onto the continent for the first time.
And whilst the cockpit of the Polo R WRC represents familiar ground for Mikkelsen, here too he must adapt to some new factors. With his regular co-driver Mikko Markkula (FIN) taking an injury-enforced break, Mikkelsen is joined in the passenger seat by an experienced replacement in Paul Nagle (IRL). Like Mikkelsen, Nagle capped his time in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) by winning the title in 2009.
Jari-Matti Latvala, Polo R WRC #7: “I enjoy travelling to Australia, as there is a very good atmosphere there and the people are extremely friendly. The special stages require a very quick, flowing style of driving and you have to find a good rhythm. The good thing is that, as a rule, I tend to do well on these quicker rallies, as they suit my driving style.
After missing out on so many points in the Manufacturers’ Championship in Germany recently, we must now concentrate on getting some good results and keeping Citroën at bay in the World Championship. That will be my first task. Everyone in the team knows that our car is good, and everyone is doing their utmost to achieve the number one goal: to win the title.”
Sébastien Ogier, Polo R WRC #8: “Whereas it was only really a theoretical chance in Germany, we now have a realistic opportunity to secure the title with races to spare. In Australia it is, to a much greater degree, in our own hands. I would like to win both the rally and the closing Power Stage. That is my goal. And the advantage is that I really like the Rally Australia. The special stages are very quick and very demanding. We are well prepared for this challenge. I am looking forward to this rally.”
Andreas Mikkelsen, Polo R WRC #9: “Paul Nagle will be my co-driver in Australia, as my regular co-driver Mikko Markkula is still injured. I know Paul from earlier rallies. I raced against him at the Rally Ireland when I was 17. We also know each other from the IRC, where he was Kris Meeke’s co-driver. I have no doubt that he will do a good job. The Rally Australia will be far less familiar to me.
The furthest I have ever travelled before was Thailand. The rally is completely new territory for me. However, the other drivers will not have a great deal more experience than me, as many of this year’s special stages will be new. I think Paul and I will have a good rally. We will travel to Australia early, in order to become accustomed to everything and to get to know each other a bit better.”
Volkswagen in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC)
In entering the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), Volkswagen is adding another chapter to its motorsport success story. Volkswagen claimed overall victory at the Rally Dakar with the Race Touareg in 2009, 2010 and 2011 – celebrating a hat-trick of titles at the toughest marathon rally in the world.
The Polo R WRC is the first World Rally Car produced by the Wolfsburg-based company, which now lines up with its own works team in the pinnacle of rallying.
The series offers Volkswagen the opportunity to prove itself on a global platform in direct sporting competition. No model is more suited to the challenge than the Polo – one of Volkswagen’s most heavily produced and distributed models in the world.
Three questions for Paul Nagle
You tested with Volkswagen this week and took your place next to Andreas Mikkelsen in the Polo R WRC for the first time. How was it? Paul Nagle: “The tests were a great experience. Everything was new to me: the team, the car, the driver. However, I was very well received and the two test days really went very well. The car is absolutely fantastic and the team is working very hard. They scrutinise every detail as they strive to improve.
Andreas is an outstanding driver, and this is a fantastic opportunity for me to compete as a co-driver for Volkswagen. Volkswagen is an extraordinary team. It is an absolute pleasure to work with this crew. Everyone knows exactly what they are doing and, as a newcomer, you get as much support as physically possible.”
As it stands, you will only be lining up alongside Andreas Mikkelsen this once at the Rally Australia. Do you feel any pressure ahead of this one-off appearance? Paul Nagle: “There will be a certain degree of pressure, and I will definitely be a little bit nervous. However, this is my job and I am looking forward to the challenge and working with Andreas.
My learning curve will be a steep one. After all, I don’t know the Rally Australia at all and have never been there before. The last time the rally was on the WRC calendar was in 2011, so only a few drivers are familiar with it. As such, everyone is in a similar position coming into the rally. That ought to suit us.”
How well do you know Andreas Mikkelsen and how difficult will it be to adapt to his new system of pace notes? “We drove against each other in the IRC, in which Andreas won the title in 2011 and 2012. Chris Meeke and I were crowned champions in 2009. Andreas joined the IRC in 2010 when Chris and I were defending our title. We all got to know each other then.
Last year both Andreas and I lined up in the SWRC, today’s WRC-2. As such, we already know each other well enough to work together. I also adapted to Andreas’ pace notes system quite quickly. There are obviously a few things that are a bit different. However, after a few hours of testing I had already taken them in. We will concentrate particularly hard on them during the ‘Recce’.”