For the second time this season, the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team is set to head south of the equator. In Australia, the WRC stages the penultimate gravel round on this year’s calendar.- Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle and Mads Østberg/Jonas Andersson will be driving the two DS3 WRCs.
After it joined the World Championship calendar in 1988, Rally Australia was initially contested on the west coast of the country. Based in Perth, the event was regarded as real challenge due to its unique road surface, which was covered in incredibly slippery, tiny round stones.
Following a debut appearance used to get to grips with the event, with Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena finishing seventh overall in 2002, all three Citroën Racing cars claimed top five positions in 2003 as Sébastien Loeb finished ahead of Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz. The next two years saw Sébastien Loeb and then François Duval win in a Xsara WRC.
On its only outing in Australia, the C4 WRCs driven by Sébastien Loeb and Dani Sordo finished on the podium in 2009. The base of the rally switched to Kingscliff in northern New South Wales in 2011, before moving again last year to Coffs Harbour where Mikko Hirvonen took third place for Citroën.
A TYPICAL GRAVEL ROUND
Rally Australia has only been contested in its current format once before as a World Championship event. And yet the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team has already got to grips with the event.
With only 42 test days in the season and a ban on driving at the venue before the start, the Citroën crews have not had the chance to perform any specific test sessions.
“We worked on preparing for Rally Australia during other sessions,” highlighted Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal. “Managing the test programme is an important point. In our schedule, we prepared for this event before and after Rally Finland. At the moment, our tests are focussed on preparing for the upcoming rounds on tarmac.”
For the third event running, both crews will have already taken part in the rally in a WRC car, which proved to be a considerable advantage in Finland and Germany: “Kris and Mads showed their ability when driving on roads they know. The second half of the season should enable them to use this experience to secure positive results.”
In the opinion of Didier Clément, the DS3 WRC’s Chief Operations Engineer, the Australian course doesn’t throw up any particular difficulties: “The roads are fairly smooth with very little variation in height. The stages are pretty quick although they can become very slippery if it rains.”
“Although we always have something to learn, even at a rally at which we have been competing for fifteen years, we have a fairly clear idea of the solutions to adopt in Australia. The team reaches a consensus pretty quickly as regards the right set-up. From that point of view, it is not a difficult event. We can look in our data bank to establish the basic set-up, in agreement with each driver.”
MADS ØSTBERG GOES IN SEARCH OF POINTS
Sixth overall in Germany, Mads Østberg and Jonas Andersson managed to end a run of two rallies in Poland and Finland where they failed to score a point. Their performance on tarmac helped them look forward to the next event with raised hopes.
“It was important to make it to the end in Germany,” reiterated Mads. “We were only twenty seconds or so short of the podium, but the main thing was to score some points for the team.”
Last year, the Norwegian driver and his co-driver finished fifth overall in Australia: “It was the first time I had competed here. The stages are very beautiful, with a lot of changes in pace. We’ll have to contend with many different conditions, the kind of mixed road surfaces you also get in Mexico, Sardinia and Finland.”
“The narrow sections are really challenging as the trees are so close to the racing line that you get the impression that they are actually on the road in some places! As always, the aim is to fight for a place on the podium. No-one has a great deal of experience here, so that may work in our favour. Obviously, it will be a difficult rally, but we have chance of a top three finish.”
In 2013, Kris Meeke lined up at the start of Rally Finland and Rally Australia in a DS3 WRC. The British driver now intends to make use of his experience to mix it with the leaders. Last month, he claimed a brilliant third place in Jyväskylä… before then leading a WRC event for the first time in Germany.
“Yes, it was the very first time I had led a WRC rally,” confirmed Kris. “It took me a while to get over the disappointment of not seeing it through to the end. But the experience will help make me even stronger.”
Last year, Kris replaced Dani Sordo in his first appearance at Rally Australia with Citroën: “There was a lot of pressure on me,” recalled the Northern Irishman. “I wasn’t sure how I would fare against the other drivers and we needed to score points in the Manufacturers’ championship for Citroën. We made the perfect start by setting the fastest time in qualifying and we managed to stay in the top three for most of the rally. We didn’t get the result in the end, but the experience was important.”
Meanwhile, co-driver Paul Nagle held the lead alongside Andreas Mikkelsen on day one…
This year, Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle will have a good starting position on the first leg: “It’s an important point, but we mustn’t focus on it too much. We don’t need to do anything different in the car. We have to concentrate on driving the stages to set the best possible times. I think we can have a good rally. And the most important thing is to make it to the finish line!”
A VERY COMPACT COURSE
Coffs Coast will host Rally Australia for the second year running. Most of the stages used in 2013 still feature this year with a few adjustments to facilitate access for spectators. The route is one of the most compact of the season with less than 1,000 kilometres to cover – with 315km of timed sections – in three days. All of the stages are located within 55 kilometres of the base for the rally.
The new shakedown uses part of SS1 and SS4, contested in the opposite direction to that used in the rally proper. It begins on Thursday at 8am and will be followed by the ceremonial start held in Coffs Harbour, as part of a Rally Show, which will last from 4pm to 6.30pm.
On Friday, the crews will set off at 8.30am (0.30am CET) for a loop of three stages that will be repeated in the afternoon: Hydes Creek (10.73km – 9.18am/2.27pm), Bellingen (10.72.km – 10.11am/3.20pm) and Newry (24.91km – 10.39am/3.48pm). From 6.30pm, there will be two runs on the 1.56km Super Special Stage on a combined gravel/tarmac course, after which the standings will be set for the night.
The next day, the course heads south with two sections of two stages: the huge Nambucca test (48.92km – 8.18am/2.24pm) and then Valla (8.96km – 10.06/3.52pm), which will be broadcast live in the morning. Like Friday, the day will conclude with two runs on the Coffs Harbour Super Special Stage.
On Sunday, the crews head north to contest the final stages. They will complete three tests, each run twice: Shipmans (30.20km – 8.08am/12.52pm), Bucca (10.86km – 9.16am/2.00pm) and Wedding Bells (9.23km – 10.06am/3.06pm), the latter stage being televised on both runs and serving as the Power Stage to conclude the rally. The rally is scheduled to finish in Coffs Harbour from 5.00pm.