Uncertain weather challenges Hyundai crews aiming for points hat-trick One of the favourites of the calendar among competitors is next on the agenda as Hyundai World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer head...
Uncertain weather challenges Hyundai crews aiming for points hat-trick
One of the favourites of the calendar among competitors is next on the agenda as Hyundai World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer head to the other side of the world for Rally Australia, the tenth round of FIA World Rally Championship running from 4-7 September.
The event has always had a slot in the calendar near the end of the season and this is the earliest position it has seen in the fourteen years it has been included as part of world series. Usually enjoying early springtime climate with blue skies and sunshine, the rally could feature very differing characteristics being held a month earlier with typically higher rainfall -- on average three times the amount that falls in the rally's former slot of early November. The familiar slippery, loose-surfaced gravel roads of the region featuring the infamous ball bearing-shaped stones could take on quite a varied look as rain turns the clay and sandy base into slippery mud with deep ruts.
Belgian crew Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets have contested the rally six times and with three top ten finishes including a fourth place in 1999 have amassed a good amount of experience of the slippery Australian country roads in the process.
"If the first stage that we had rain last year is anything to go by, where the first kilometre or so was dry then at a corner there was lots of water and mud and very slippery as a result, then we could be in for an incredibly slippery event. It could be a bit like a gravel version of Monte Carlo and tyre choices could be really hard," explained 32-year-old Loix. "But I like the rally and the challenges it presents so I'm looking forward to it."
Armin Schwarz may be short of experience in Australia but is not lacking in enthusiasm. Despite retiring last year, the German has two top five finishes to his credit, one of which was on the podium so he knows what it feels like to succeed on this event.
"During the recce in '91 it was very muddy from rain and if it's anything like that this year then it will definitely be muddy, slippery, wet and rutted. There are a few new stages this year and other stages with changes but as we've seen in the past the Accent has often been more competitive on stages that are new to everyone so I'm looking forward to that. Australia's a nice country, the event is usually well organised so I have a good feeling about this rally," said Armin.
According to Sven Smeets, co-driver to Freddy Loix there will be a lot of changes this year. "I have to say I know nothing about wet Australia! I know there has been some rain recently and I have never contested Rally Australia on wet roads. I realise it may still be a bit dry but if not we will have quite different conditions to deal with.
To start with it will be very, very slippery and probably quite muddy -- I would imagine it to be a bit like Indonesia in the wet. The ground under the stones is actually quite sandy so in the wet there will be a top layer of mud which will require a very different kind of grip than we are used to.
There are quite a lot of new stages. Some are brand new so will be new to everyone and some have new sections which may be parts of stages reversed from last year for example. In fact, almost all stages have been changed in some way. If I understand correctly, most of the stages that have been taken out for this year are the softer ones so overall the rally will be better if we do get rain. There are more double runs of stages so they will all be cut-up but they will cut up less if they are harder to start with. Obviously they will be clean of loose surface gravel, which is always an issue in Australia, but they will also have deep ruts by the second time through.
The other reason the route has been modified is to accommodate a single service area, as has been happening in many rallies this year but it has left us with some very long road sections. Tyre choice will also be important as they're going to need bigger cuts for the muddier conditions.
Obviously this could all be academic and it could be dry and we'll be talking about the slippery dry, ball bearing-like gravel that nobody wants to drive on first and where being further down the running order is better! We'll just have to wait and see"
The rally kicks off with the first run of the new Gloucester Park superspecial stage on the evening of Thursday 4 September. The stage has been constructed in a similar style to its predecessor in Langley Park with a double track so cars compete head to head and still features a crowd-pleasing jump. The rally proper take crews due south of Perth on Friday 5 September for the longest day of the rally, with three groups of stages covering 143 competitive kilometres in the pine plantations around Stirling Reservoir and a second run of Gloucester Park closes the day. The second day features 124 kilometres over two large groups of stages on clay and gravel pine-surrounded roads east of Perth in the Mundaring environs. The third and final leg takes on the traditional images of jumps and water splashes on the sandy gravel roads of the Sotico pine plantation for the final four speed tests. Crews reach the Perth finish ramp at 16:30 on Sunday 7 September. Australia is GMT+8hrs.