The World Rally Championship changes surface at the next round: sandwiched between two tarmac events, the Citroën World Rally Team lands on the Australian gravel.
More than halfway through its tour of Europe and following two trips to the Americas, the World Championship prepares for the longest journey of the 2015 calendar. On the other side of the world, Oceania is set to host the DS 3 WRCs.
Organised on the Pacific coast, halfway between Sydney and Brisbane, Rally Australia has been held around Coffs Harbour since 2011. Far removed from its former base in Perth, both in terms of distance and character, this year’s event has a very different identity.
Although it is less distinctive in nature than some of the other WRC rounds, the style of Rally Australia boasts a multitude of characteristics. In addition to the dust that covers the roads, the small jumps – which can look like the whoops you get on a motocross track – introduce a degree of vertical lift that must be taken into account when defining the set-up of the cars.
I have already shown I can be fast in Australia,
Competitive here last season, the DS 3 WRCs will benefit from the new parts introduced earlier in 2015 and the experience acquired in previous rallies in order to keep on improving. These upgrades will undoubtedly provide an advantage, especially on day two. On Saturday, the crews will have to complete two runs on the very long Nambucca stage (50.80km), as well as taking on Valla II (7.94km) after nightfall, where greater emphasis will be placed on driving skills.
Fourth in the World Rally Championship with three podium finishes on gravel this season, Mads Østberg remains on a run of twelve consecutive top ten finishes, begun just after the 2014 Rally Australia. The Norwegian will arrive in Coffs Harbour determined to fight at the front.
Leader of the rally last season, Kris Meeke has already shown his potential on the roads of New South Wales. Competitive in 2013 and 2014 in the DS 3 WRC, the Northern Irishman – currently seventh in the Drivers’ standings – will also be looking for a very good result.
As part of the programme implemented this year to support the learning and development of Stéphane Lefebvre and his progress towards the top level of the sport, the young French driver will be taking part in recce at Rally Australia. He will be back in competitive action, with his co-driver Stéphane Prévot, at the Tour de Corse in a DS 3 WRC.
Yves Matton (Citroën Racing Team Principal): “The aim is to come back from this long trip to Australia with a hatful of points. Both our crews are still free to define and manage their own tactics for the rally. Mads and Kris are motivated, they are very aware that they have real assets available to them and that everything is in place to enable them to achieve good results. At this stage of the season, it is important to score points, both for the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team and for our drivers.”
Mads Østberg: “I’m happy to be back on the Australian gravel. It’s a unique surface with a fairly specific character. The profile of the stages change often and sometimes quite dramatically. It’s fairly common to switch from very wide roads, which you don’t see very often in the WRC, to much narrower sections. There are also a lot of small jumps which you need to judge carefully in recce so you don’t lose your rhythm in those sections. I feel perfectly prepared for this event and I really want to be among the front runners. I have already shown I can be fast in Australia, but it’s the only gravel rally on which I have yet to record a good result. The target is therefore to improve on my performance in previous years and fight for a place on the podium.”
Kris Meeke: “I have some very fond memories of my last two appearances at Rally Australia in the DS 3 WRC. I was competitive here in 2013 and 2014, and last season, I was challenging for a podium spot. This year, the itinerary has changed a bit. But the new stages look magnificent and like they will be very fast. Generally speaking, the roads are very interesting although the forest sections, when you get rays of sunshine coming through the trees, can be especially tricky. If the weather stays dry, my starting position should be an advantage. The idea is not to push to the maximum at the start. I have to maintain the pace I have shown in the last few rallies and avoid even making the slightest mistake. If we manage to do that, then along with my starting position for the first two days, we should be well placed.”