PREVIEW: 2016 Rally Australia signifies an end of an era

The 2016 Kennards Hire Rally Australia will be the end of an era, as the World Rally Championship bids farewell to Volkswagen and the current generation of WRC cars before the all new 2017-spec comes in to play.

With both the Drivers’ and Manufacturer’s titles sowed up, you would think that Sebastién Ogier and Volkswagen would enjoy a relaxing drive to the finish line. However, after the shock news of VW’s exit, the German manufacturer will be using Rally Australia as a fitting swansong to their time in the WRC.

VW will be hoping for the sort of performance that has defined its time in the WRC: complete domination. Their soon-to-be redundant drivers will be looking to showcase their skills to state their cases for inclusion in the remaining teams in the WRC order.

While their World Champion teammate Ogier’s letterbox is rapidly filling up with offers, both Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen will have to prove themselves in order to have a seat for next year.

Extreme WRC cars on the way

Credit: @World/Citroën Racing
Credit: @World/Citroën Racing

The other fond farewell will be to the 1.6 litre WRC cars which first appeared in 2011. 2017 will bring in more radical cars, featuring lighter more powerful with aerodynamics, which hark back to the days of Group B.

The current generation will wave goodbye with a four-way fight for second in the driver’s championship. Mikkelsen was the longtime holder of the position but his mechanical dramas in Wales has dropped him 14 points back from Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville. Neuville’s teammates Hayden Paddon and Dani Sordo are also within a sniff of the runners-up position, being 17 and 24 points down respectively, with 28 points up for grabs.

From open farmland to Jungle

Credit: @World/Red Bull Content Pool
Credit: @World/Red Bull Content Pool

The stages are based around New South Wales and feature an entertaining mix of stages.

The fast, flowing hard road stages across the open countryside around Coffs Harbour are often coated with loose gravel, giving a benefit to those further down the running order, such as DMACK’s Ott Tänak.

In stark contrast, some of the Aussie action takes drivers through soft, secluded stages in the jungle. The narrow roads require a more technical approach with dense trees letting in chinks of unexpected sunlight to test the driver and co-driver’s focus.

Thursday’s rally show launches the event before drivers’ head south on Friday to tackle a double loop of four main stages around Macksville followed by a blast through the Super Special Stages.

Saturday is the toughest day of the rally when the 50.8 kilometre Nambucca stage is tackled twice while Sunday heads north to Wedding Bells State Forest for five final day tests.

WRC2 – It’s all to play for Down Under

Credit: Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool
Credit: Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Whilst the 2016 World Rally Championship has been wrapped up, there is another championship that’s yet to be concluded and that’s the 2016 WRC2 Championship.

The three drivers that are in with a shout of winning the 2016 WRC2 title are the Championship Leaders Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen, coming into this weekend’s season finale in Australia on 120 points.

While Esapekka Lappi is thirteen points behind Evans and Lappi in third and has a genuine chance at winning this year’s WRC2 title.

There are twenty-eight points on offer in Coffs Harbour and if Lappi wins or is in the points and Suninen and Evans, who are not competing in Australia fail to score, Lappi becomes the 2016 WRC2 Champion.

If Lappi fails to score outside the points or finish the rally, Suninen becomes the 2016 WRC2 Champion by virtue of the tie-break as the results during the season would not be enough for the Welshman to claim the WRC2 title.

Rally Australia will hopefully provide a fitting farewell to an end of an era for these current WRC cars when action begins with the pre-event Shakedown on Thursday 17 October 2016.