Rally Australia: Season finale preview

After two European events the FIA World Rally Championship makes its way to the other side of the globe for the finale of the 2005 season. Rally Australia concludes the championship with three days of flat-out action on the red earth roads around...

After two European events the FIA World Rally Championship makes its way to the other side of the globe for the finale of the 2005 season. Rally Australia concludes the championship with three days of flat-out action on the red earth roads around Perth, the capital of Western Australia, from 10-13 November.

With this year's drivers' title already wrapped up, the battle now focuses on second and third positions. Subaru's Petter Solberg will go head-to-head with Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm and with the duo currently level on 71 points after 15 of the 16 events the battle looks set to go right down to the wire.

After two sealed-surface rallies the series returns to gravel with most of the rally taking place on forest roads to the south and east of Perth. The distinctive red roads are a challenge to crews, since the fast and narrow routes are covered by a fine layer of marble-like gravel that makes them extremely slippery. Grip levels as a result can be very low, although crews further down the starting order will find more adhesion as the 'ball-bearing' surface hides a hard-packed base. The first crews on the road will therefore be at a distinct disadvantage as they sweep the road for the following cars.

Rally organisers recently announced that the Australian event will remain in Perth for the 2006 season, a popular decision with teams and spectators who relish the sunshine and stunning scenery that characterise the event. With plumes of dust trailing the cars, and spectacular jumps and watersplashes like those seen in the Sotico stages on the second day, the event is one of the most photogenic of the year.

This year's rally shows several changes from previous editions, while remaining faithful to the traditional speed tests near Perth. It is more compact than in previous years and no longer visits the southerly Stirling tests on the opening day. The service park reverts to the riverside Langley Park, although the Perth super special stages will remain at the Gloucester Park trotting track, where the action begins on Thursday evening. The opening leg continues south of Perth on Friday with stages clustered around the town of Dwellingup. Saturday's route takes competitors south-west to the Bunnings stages, where the famous roller coaster jumps and watersplash provide some of the season's most spectacular action. Both days end with tests east of Perth and a repeat of the city super special stages, which are run six times in all. The Bunnings tests, usually used on the final leg, have swapped places with the Mundaring stages, east of Perth, which now comprise the final day. Competitors face 355.39km of competition in a total route of 1345.41km.


Telstra Rally Australia will mark the end of a remarkable season this weekend (10-13 November 2005) for Citroen and its newly crowned World Champion, Sebastien Loeb and, after securing his second title, Citroen's third world title in succession and set new world records for most wins in a season and largest number of consecutive wins, Loeb and Citroen are determined to end on a high note, not least because it is also the last event for the team itself, with Citroen pulling out of the sport. But with all the prizes already in bag, Citroen out of the sport for 2006 before returning in 2007 and its star driver lined up to drive for another team in 2007, albeit still in a Citroen, does this mean that Telstra Rally Australia is little more than an end of season party for the team? Citroen Total has sent two Xsara WRCs to Perth for its usual crews Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Francois Duval/Sven Smeets, while Team Kronos Racing - the team Loeb will join in 2006 - will run the privately-entered Xsaras of Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor and Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio.

Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "These past two years, running first on the road has been less of a handicap because of rain prior to the start which helped limit the damage," explains Loeb. "There are a number of different scenarios which can vary from stage to stage. At times, you have to cut a line through the famous top-coating of marbles, at others you come across clear lines left by the cars during recce. But even then, it is difficult to stick to them when you're pushing hard. To help boost morale, it is often said that the drivers running second and third on the road are more or less in the same boat, but sometimes it only takes the line cleared by one car - namely mine - for them to be able to get down to the road's hard-packed base. The split times show that we take a hiding but there is nothing we can do about it. For sure, it's irritating. But the danger is allowing that irritation to lead you into doing something stupid. The first leg in Australia is therefore an object lesson in patience. You just have to drive as well as you can on the Friday and then take stock at the end of the day to see what sort of result is realistic."

Francois Duval/Sven Smeets: "In 2002, I retired after hitting a small tree with my door. In 2003, I was slowed by hydraulic problems I think. Last year, everything went well. In a WRC car, the stages are sometimes very slippery but I have often benefited from a favourable road order. This time, I will be fifth on the road on the Friday I think. It will probably still be a little difficult and very slippery. A good position, in Australia, is at least tenth on the road."


The Subaru World Rally Team will enter a two-car team on Rally Australia. The two Impreza WRC2005's will be driven by Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) and Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn Macneall). Stephane Sarrazin will complete the recce to gain experience of the event. Petter has contested the rally five times before and won it in 2003 on the way to clinching that year's drivers' championship. 2005 will be Chris' second entry in Rally Australia. In a remarkable performance last year, at the wheel of production class Impreza WRX, Chris won the Group N classification and finished in fifth place overall.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "The focus this rally is on securing second position in the drivers' championship. We've shown that we can compete with Marcus on a level playing field and I will be 100% determined to get a good result. Australia is a fantastic event and we've had a win here so I am confident that we can achieve our aim. I enjoy the stages, the weather is good, the people are friendly - it's the perfect place to celebrate!"

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "I'm really looking forward to this event. It will be fantastic to go home and after my first year in the World Rally Championship it will be interesting to see the support that we have. This will only be my second time on the rally in Perth, so I don't have a massive home advantage - my home's four thousand kilometres away on the east coast! We have had some good results this year, though, and the goal will be to achieve a similar result to Japan. We've shown what we can do when we have experience of the event."


The all-new Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, the Blue Oval's challenger for the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship, will make its first public appearance on next week's Rally Australia (10 - 13 November). Two cars will be crewed by regular BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen and team-mates Roman Kresta and Jan Tomanek. They will tackle the 16th and final round of the FIA World Rally Championship as a continuation of the car's test and development programme, in preparation for its first competitive outing on the opening round of next year's series, January's Monte Carlo Rally.

Toni Gardemeister/Jakke Honkanen: This will be 30-year-old Gardemeister's sixth Rally Australia start, and he has two sixth-place finishes to his credit. "It's exciting to think about driving the new car for the first time," he said. "It looks fantastic and I'm impressed with it. I've not driven the new Focus RS WRC yet and shakedown will be the first time I get the opportunity to do that. It will be difficult because I don't know how it will behave, but that's the kind of information the team wants to learn. "I like the country and the rally. The roads are fast and similar to my home event in Finland. They are also slippery with trees right by the side of the road so if a driver makes a mistake, it's easy to land in big trouble," added the Finn, who is already assured of fourth place in the final drivers' championship standings.

Roman Kresta/Jan Mozny: Kresta has not started Rally Australia before, but the 29-year-old Czech has some knowledge of the unique stages there. "I was there with a former team in 2002. I didn't do the recce but checked some of the stages to get a feel for the roads. They appear fast and narrow in places, with a lot of trees close to the edge of the road. It will be difficult as a 'first-timer' but I'm used to that this season. My aim is to learn as much about the nature of the roads as possible," he said. "I'm excited about driving the new Focus RS WRC. I went to M-Sport to fix my seat position after the Rally Catalunya and I drove the car slowly around the grounds of Dovenby Hall for about 300 metres. Now I can't wait to drive it at speed on the shakedown. The technology is fantastic but that's what you expect from a new Ford Focus RS WRC," added Kresta, whose entry car is the same vehicle that completed the UK tests.


The French team intends to throw all its strength into this final showdown in a bid to end its WRC adventure as it started it, with a top result. The two 307WRCs will be driven by Marcus Gronholm, three-times winner of the Perth-based event, and by the young Swede Daniel Carlsson. When these two drivers line up for the start of the team's final WRC rally in Australia, it will clearly be a very emotional moment for Peugeot Sport. This fast and highly selective rally is amongst those on which the French squad has enjoyed the most success in recent years, with Marcus Gronholm winning outright three years on the trot in 2000, 2001 and 2002. This time round, the Finn will be looking to take that figure to four wins in order to add a last victory to the team's highly enviable record. Rally Australia has counted towards the World Rally Championship since 1988 and Peugeot has taken part in the last six years with remarkable success. The 206 WRC competed here for the first time in 1999, while the 307WRC's maiden visit was in 2004.

Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen: Apologies. Peugeot have not made quotes available.

Nicolas Bernardi/Jean Marc Fortin: Apologies. Peugeot have not made quotes available.


The Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team heads to Australia for the 16th and final round of the 2005 World Rally Championship (November 10-13) where the Fabia WRC 05 will be driven by the regular crew of Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha alongside Britain's Colin McRae/Nicky Grist. World Champion of 1995 Colin McRae readily agreed to drive the Fabia for the second time this season after a successful first time at the wheel on September's Rally GB. The Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team for Australia is therefore the most experienced partnership in the entry list with 262 WRC starts and 26 wins between them. Colin won the event twice, in 1994 and 1997, completed the event eighth times and has never finished outside the top six.

Colin McRae/Nicky Grist: "Australia is a very difficult rally. It is high-speed and the trees are very close to the edge of the road. Combine that with the unique road surface and you end up with one of the toughest rallies of the year. It is also one of my favourites because it is well organised, has a great atmosphere and I've had some great results there. My start position should be perfect so I'm looking forward to the event."

Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha: "Australia is a great country to visit. Everyone knows how hard the rally is and that is partly because of the surface but also because there is not the same natural rhythm to the stages that you find anywhere else. But it will definitely be a fun place to end the season."


After two back-to-back European asphalt events, the FIA World Rally Championship contenders head down under for the final round of the 2005 season. Rally Australia (November 10-13) will see Mitsubishi Motorsport field another two-car entry and Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen will once again be joined by "Gigi" Galli/Guido d'Amore for the last gravel challenge of the year. Harri Rovanpera has seven Rally Australia outings under his belt and also some good results. In his first event in 1997 he won the World 2 Liter category and has since had two sixth-placed finishes (1999 and 2001) as well as two second positions (2002 and 2004). Team-mate Gigi Galli has only previously competed in Australia once, in Mitsubishi's Group N machinery.

Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen: "It's a rally, country and city I like a lot", said Harri. "It's always very nice to go to Perth and I have a lot of good memories. In previous years each leg's stages have had very different characteristics and each is difficult and challenging. Tires are very important for this rally, like everywhere, but I hope the weather will not be too hot and then we can really fight. Pirelli tires always work well here and I'm confident of a good performance, like in Wales and Japan. If we can have a trouble-free time, we will get a good result, I'm sure".

Gigi Galli/Guido d'Amore: Last year we were leading in Group N, until a big meeting with a tree!" said Gigi. "For me that is the biggest characteristic of the event; the closeness of the trees to very fast and narrow roads and for that I don't really like this rally so much. This is my first year driving the world rally car in Australia and it will not be so easy to make the change I think. But, of course I feel confident after our performance on the last gravel rally in Japan, but once again we stick to our goal of gaining experience and learning the roads for the future. I'm confident in the performance of the Pirelli tires as they are competitive on this event and for this I don't have any worries. I think if we are able to find a good balance between performance and consistency, we can have a good result for the team at the end of the year".


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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team , M-Sport