Second match point: Volkswagen close to defending the world championship titleHard times: Rally Australia is the seventh gravel rally of the yearInternal three-way battle: Volkswagen drivers fight for drivers’ championship
Just a small step to the big goal: With their second “match point”, Volkswagen reaches for the title in the manufacturers’ standings of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) at the Rally Australia. From 11 to 14 September the Volkswagen duos of Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (F/F), Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN) and Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Fløene (N/N) will also start their internal battle for the drivers’ and co-drivers’ standings Down Under. One thing is already certain: Only a driver of a Polo R WRC can win the title since only the Volkswagen drivers have picked up enough points to be in with a chance. In keeping with the motto “may the best man win”, there will be no team orders at Volkswagen when the works team from Wolfsburg takes on one of the most challenging and unique rallies of the year. 20 special stages with 315.30 kilometres against the clock are scheduled.
“The Rally Australia is one of the highlights of the year,” said Volkswagen Motorsport Director Jost Capito. “With the current situation in the world championship it has the potential to be particularly exciting in 2014. In the Ogier versus Latvala duel both drivers have been given the go-ahead to fight for victory. We also have a good chance of being able to celebrate winning the manufacturers’ title early. Last year we won 21 of 22 special stages and started the longest winning streak in the history of the WRC. We’re proud of this. However, it won’t be easy to be successful once again. The Rally Australia has many different challenges and has lots of tricky passages on which it is easy to make mistakes. At our home rally recently we saw just how quickly a rally can be over. But it’s the big challenges that make for victories that are all the sweeter. We would like to experience the sweet side again this time.”
Match point Down Under: five points needed to win the manufacturers’ world championship
Volkswagen could celebrate winning the manufacturers’ world championship early in Australia. Sébastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala need to pick up five points between them to make the dream come true – if Citroën get a one-two victory that is. Whatever happens, it is enough if they defend 129 of their current 169 point advantage over the competition. If they manage this it would be a historic victory. If they successfully defend the title in Australia, this would be the earliest that a title has been decided in 25 years – after a good three quarters of the season.
Ogier versus Latvala – a spectacular classic, new edition in Australia
The Ogier versus Latvala duel has had fans on the edge of their seats since the start of the season. Going into the Rally Australia, Sébastien Ogier has a 44 point advantage over his team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala in the drivers’ standings of the WRC. Eight of the nine rallies of the season have been won by one of these two – Ogier has won five, Latvala has won three. However, the perpetual duel has been very much a part of WRC history: Three of the Ogier – Latvala battles are in the ten closest WRC decisions of all time. In 2011, Ogier beat Latvala by 0.2 seconds in Jordan. In New Zealand in 2010, Latvala was just 2.4 seconds ahead of Ogier. The closest result since both of them have been driving for Volkswagen was at the Rally Finland this year, when Latvala celebrated his home victory over Ogier, winning by 3.6 seconds.
And then there is Mikkelsen – The youngster at the top of his game
Finishing in the top five seven times in nine rallies, with three podium spots – Andreas Mikkelsen is having his best rallying season yet in 2014. The champion of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) in 2011 and 2012 is 77 points off the top and is in third place in the overall standings, behind Sébastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala, and is one of the three drivers who are still in with a mathematical chance of becoming world champion. The Rally Australia sees the 25-year-old youngster take on another gravel rally – his favourite type of surface. Added to this, Mikkelsen has fond memories of the 2013 Rally Australia, which he finished in sixth place on his debut there.
Typical Rally Australia: speedy country roads, tricky forest tracks
20 special stages, 315.30 kilometres against the clock, three days – the Rally Australia around Coffs Harbour in the state of New South Wales presents itself as a compact challenge. However, the special stages are all of varying character: Country roads that are ultra fast alternate with narrow, twisted routes through dense forests. Lots of blind entry points make life difficult for the drivers and their co-drivers. The event organisers have saved the most typical special stage of the Rally Australia for Sunday, when the rally action will take place to the north of Coffs Harbour. “Wedding Bells” in the hilly Wedding Bells State Forest is a demanding 9.23 kilometres against the clock, and the second pass will be the power stage, where the top three are awarded bonus points.
However, the biggest challenge for the participants will be on Saturday, on the southernmost stage of the Rally Australia, the special stage “Nambucca”. At 48.92-kilometres it is the longest special stage of the rally. A major advantage of the Rally Australia is the short distances: The spectator zones are only between 30 and 60 minutes drive from the centre in Coffs Harbour. The World Rally Cars will drive a total of 632.80 kilometres of liaison stages over the three days.
Quotes ahead of the Rally Australia
Sébastien Ogier, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #1“The Rally Australia suits me perfectly. I love the layout of the special stages and always feel good Down Under. 2013 was almost perfect for Julien and me: 19 best times on 22 special stages, and on top of that we secured three bonus points for winning the power stage. Naturally we want to repeat that this year. But that will be far from easy: We will be the first to take to the special stages on day one, and the competition is close and alert – Hyundai proved this with the win and second place in Germany. Mistakes are punished, we experienced that – but that’s rallying for you. The Rally Germany is behind us and we are looking ahead. Fortunately Julien and I are totally fine after the accident. We had a few tests done to make sure, and the results were all positive. We secured the drivers’ title for Volkswagen in Germany, but not the manufacturers’ championship. That’s definitely the goal for Australia.”
Jari-Matti Latvala, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #2“The Rally Australia is always something special. I like the relaxed way of life they have there, the countryside and how close this rally is to the ocean. From a sporting point of view we are switching back from asphalt to gravel, which is always harder than the other way around. But we are doing a quick test in Finland before the rally to get used to the feeling once again, and in particular the different braking points. Finland is a good choice since the rally Down Under requires a vehicle set-up somewhere between the Rally Mexico and the Rally Finland. The first day, on which there are increasingly narrow, technical passages through the forest, is more like Mexico. The second day, with its wide, fast and drawn out passages, is more like Finland. So we need two different set-ups: a softer one and a harder one. It helps that the shakedown will be held on one of the special stages this time, just driving in the opposite direction. That will give us a feel for the actual track. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to close the gap on my team-mate Sébastien Ogier in the championship in Germany recently. So we’re starting in the same position. I hope that I can fight for the win. But we also need to keep an eye on the competition outside of our team. I think that Citroën and Hyundai also have a good chance of winning.”
Andreas Mikkelsen, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #9“Back on gravel, I like it. The Rally Australia is one of the races this year that I have already completed in the Polo R WRC. I have fond memories of the rally to boot. I enjoyed every special stage back then. We will take many of them on again this year. There are a lot of blind entry points in the forest, which is anything but easy. It’s so easy to make a mistake and wreck the rally for yourself. We will have to pay particular attention to ‘Nambucca’, because it is not only the longest, but also possibly the most difficult special stage of the Rally Australia. Covering just less than 50 kilometres, it has everything that can make life difficult for a rally driver. On top of the many blind corners, there is also the switch to asphalt. But this year we can rely on the onboard notes from 2013, and I will be studying them in detail. Overall I don’t feel under that much pressure since we are in good stead in the drivers’ standings. And whenever I have started without a lot of pressure, I have got a good result. I would like to make it onto the podium again. Of course it would be great to also win a rally one day, but I’m not in any rush. However, the Rally Australia is definitely one of the rallies in which I have the most chance of that.”
Three questions for logistics manager Lutz Meyer
It’s off to Australia – how much more effort is required for overseas rallies than for European events?Lutz Meyer: “In brief: We had to get everything ready within three days. We dismantled everything in Trier on Sunday and sent the vehicles and the important parts to Hannover that evening so that they were there on Monday morning. The mechanics and I were back in the office on Monday morning after the Rally Germany. All of the parts were sent to the specialist departments to be inspected, they were checked on Monday and Tuesday, on Wednesday we loaded them into the container, listed them, created customs declarations and cleared customs – then it was off again to air cargo. Within Europe we have at least one and a half weeks to do all this.”
How many days a year do you not spend thinking about rallies and logistics?Lutz Meyer: “There aren’t really any. Maybe Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the day after that. But even then you can’t switch off completely since the Rally Monte Carlo is in mid-January. In reality you think about it at least once every day – then you think of something or other and write it down. I’ve made an agreement with my girlfriend for my days off: I spend half an hour of the day working. I do that to make sure that the most important things have been done and that the process continues to run smoothly.”
With so many logistics for work, who plans the holidays in your household?Lutz Meyer: “My girlfriend does, I allow myself that luxury. She plans the holiday, compares and evaluates. And I gladly agree to the result.”
The number of the Rally Australia: 1.8
Volkswagen duo Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia delivered an almost perfect rally in Australia last year. 19 out of 22 possible best stage times and a total time of 3:19.55.0 hours. Ogier/Ingrassia missed out on the ideal rally time (3:19.53.2 hours), which is the total of all of the special stage best times, by 1.8 seconds.