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.
The competitive action starts on Thursday 10 November with two passes through the head-to-head Superspecial at Gloucester Park before the regular stages start on Friday. The rally comprises 26 timed stages and covers 355.39 competitive kilometres. The service park for the three day event will be constructed in Langley Park, right in the heart of the city.
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). Stéphane 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.
Between the Rallies
All three Subaru World Rally Team drivers left Rally Catalunya to participate in a Subaru drive event on Monday 31 October and Tuesday 1 November. Petter, Chris and Stéphane gave an international group of journalists and VIPs rides in the Impreza WRC2005 and the latest 2006 specification Impreza WRX STI road car at the Circuit Can Padro near Barcelona. Petter and Chris then headed straight to Australia for further PR activities prior to the start of the rally. After the drive day Stéphane drove back home to spend some time with his new son, Pablo, who was born on Wednesday 26 October. Proud father Stéphane also celebrated his 30th birthday on Wednesday 2 November with his new family.
Petter Solberg: "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: "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 Car / The Challenge
Subaru World Rally Technical Director, David Lapworth: "From an engineering point of view Australia will be a landmark event. It's really the end of an era, the last time our cars will feature things like active differentials, traction control, ABS brakes and water injection before they are banned next season.
In terms of the event, it's a particularly challenging one for drivers. The stages are generally fast and precision is essential. The racing line offers a reasonable amount of grip once the slippery, ball-bearing gravel has been cleared, but the first crews on the road will suffer as they have to clear the line for everyone else. The advantages of starting further down the order are perhaps the most exaggerated of the year and if it stays dry, the difference could be as much as two seconds a kilometre between the first and fifteenth cars on the road. At times it's almost like driving down a train track - if you stray off the line you will quite quickly encounter problems as this is where the gravel builds up.
The wide variety of speeds and corners can be punishing, but the tree-lined route can be even harder as even the tiniest of mistakes can spell retirement. With the rally taking place at the height of the Australian summer, the weather is normally hot but rain showers are not unheard of and add a further dimension to the mix. As always, the choice of tyres will be crucial. Most drivers tend to go for a softer compound with a fairly open pattern for grip, but the softer rubber can move around a lot in the high temperatures on the clean line.
We saw with Petter's performance in Japan that he thrives on this kind of surface. On a similar type of road he was on course for a win and that's the plan for next week. Marcus, Petter and Sébastien are going to be the three to watch, I think. All have nothing to lose, there's no championship pressure and they all want to end the season with a win. I think we're going to see a sprint finish to the year.
I am confident that Chris can deliver a good result and a strong points finish in Australia. A top six finish is his objective, but if things go well there's no reason to think he couldn't reach the podium. We saw in Japan how well he responded to the pressure of producing a result on a rally that he'd done before and we're expecting to see the same in Australia. After all, it was his performance on this event last year that brought him into the limelight and confirmed his potential as a star of the future."