Rally Australia: Skoda preview

After participating in the ADAC Rallye Deutschland and the Neste Rally Finland, the new Å koda Fabia WRC will make its debut run outside of Europe and at the opposite side of the globe. Both Å koda Motorsport drivers are confident of winning...

After participating in the ADAC Rallye Deutschland and the Neste Rally Finland, the new Škoda Fabia WRC will make its debut run outside of Europe and at the opposite side of the globe.

Both Škoda Motorsport drivers are confident of winning their battle for fitness in time for Rally Australia, round 10 of the World Championship. Former World Champion Didier Auriol missed the previous round in Finland because of a shoulder injury, while Toni Gardemeister broke a bone in his wrist shortly after the event. But both are now recovered well enough and keen to run the Fabia WRC in the Telstra Rally Australia.

Auriol, who won the Australian event in 1992 and has finished on the podium a further three times, said: "It's a rally I've always liked, but certainly a challenging one to drive. The most typical characteristics of Rally Australia are the 'marbles' of gravel by the side of the road. They mean you have to drive neatly to stay in the middle of the road, and not get too sideways."

"I'm really looking forward to the experience," said the Frenchman, who is competing in Australia for the 11th time this year. "The only information about our possible performance I have to go on is what Toni did in Finland. He set some promising times there, near or sometimes in the top 10. If we can do the same in Australia, I will be quite happy."

Toni Gardemeister is also eagerly awaiting the Rally Australia, having finished sixth there last year in the Škoda Octavia WRC. Toni also finished sixth in 2000, and the young Finn is keen to get stuck into his fifth Rally Australia. This time he hopes to do even better, but Toni knows that the challenges are now even bigger. He is likely to compete on the rally with his right wrist in a small plastic cast, in order to keep it immobile.

"In general I like Rally Australia and there's a very nice atmosphere," he said. "This year there are quite a lot of new stages but I think they suit us, as we tend to go well on new stages.

I think we can finish in the points there, maybe even in the top six. If you look at our speed in Finland, we weren't so far away. Up to now I am happy with the Škoda Fabia WRC although I think we need harder suspension for Australia, which we can sort out at the shakedown. In any case, my plan is to drive as fast as I can. I hope the plastic cast won't affect me too much - luckily we have a paddle gearshift system on the steering wheel which is very easy to use."

The Australian stages are run over fast, flowing gravel roads near Perth, Western Australia. The event is being run earlier than it has been in recent years, which means that the temperature is likely to be around 20 degrees centigrade, with a risk of showers. The slippery 'marbles' on the stages are always a big hazard, and they severely disadvantage those running first on the road. As the 'marbles' get swept away, the road cleans dramatically for later runners. But just like Finland, Australia is well-known as a classic event that has been won in the past by all the acknowledged gravel experts.

Škoda Motorsport team principal Pavel Janeba commented: "We hope our drivers will be able to do their best in Australia, even though they haven't really had enough time to get better. But they both like the event, and they have had very good results there last year and in the past. Our engineers have been working hard on solving the engine problem that sidelined Toni after his promising run in Finland, but Australia is a whole new challenge. It's difficult to predict how we'll get on but the most important thing is to continue to make progress and finish the rally."

Rally Australia gets underway with an all-new spectator superspecial on the evening of Thursday 4 September, near the famous WACA cricket ground in Perth. Competitors then tackle 23 more stages over the following three days, totalling 386 competitive kilometres. The rally finishes at 1630 on Sunday 7 September, after a final day which includes the spectacular Bunnings jumps.

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Series WRC
Drivers Didier Auriol , Toni Gardemeister