For the thirteenth and final round of the 2017 World Rally Championship, the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT will be aiming to finish the season on another positive note. In the Australian rainforest, the C3 WRCs will be driven by Stéphane Lefebvre/Gabin Moreau (no.7), Craig Breen/Scott Martin (no.8) and Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle (no.9).
A RALLY TURNED ON ITS HEAD
Mainly contested in Europe, the FIA World Rally Championship nonetheless travels overseas on three occasions. Following trips earlier in the year to Mexico and Argentina, the third exotic destination takes the teams to the east coast of Australia. Roughly midway between Sydney and Brisbane, the small coastal town of Coffs Harbour has hosted the event since 2011.
17,000km from Versailles, this gravel rally has its own specific characteristics, with a mix of wide, shire roads through the fields and tight, twisty tracks in the rainforest. The hard ground is often covered with tiny round stones, which can be especially slippery for the drivers who are first the road! Once it is swept clear, the hard ground provides a high level of grip… unless it decides to rain.
For the 2017 rally, the organisers have devised a more compact course, which predominantly features roads that are well known to regulars at the event. The decisive stage is expected to be the Nambucca speed test, almost 50km long and contested early on Saturday morning.
Families attending the rally will be able to enjoy a close-up view of the action, since the first and second legs conclude with two passes on a super special stage, held right next to the service park. The Raceway super special stage (Saturday morning) and the Wedding Bells Power Stage (Sunday) are equally very popular with the Australian fans.
THE CHALLENGE: FINISH THE SEASON ON ANOTHER POSITIVE NOTE
As the world titles were wrapped up at Wales Rally GB, all the competitors in Australia will have one thing in mind: sign off in style and finish the season on a positive note. Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT and its three crews are no exception to this rule!
With a favourable starting position for the opening leg, the C3 WRC drivers may be able to partially compensate for their lack of knowledge of the roads, due to the fact that Kris Meeke, Stéphane Lefebvre and Craig Breen all missed the 2016 rally.
With three appearances between 2013 and 2015, Kris Meeke still has solid experience of the event. His natural talent helped him to secure fourth place in 2014 and a podium finish the following year. Winner of two rallies this season – in Mexico and in Spain – the Briton will be expecting to be able to fight at the front in Australia.
Meanwhile, Stéphane Lefebvre’s sole appearance in Australia was at the 2015 rally. Stéphane stepped in at the last minute to replace Mads Østberg, who was injured during an accident in recce. For his first rally on gravel in a WRC, the young Frenchman set some decent times, especially on the first leg.
For Craig Breen, this will be his very first appearance in the southern hemisphere! Whilst he knows Australia well, the Irishman will be competing at this rally for the first time. However, he has already proven his ability to adapt quickly to new surroundings on several occasions this season!