Fifth at Rally Australia
We are now back in New Zealand for a few days after a good Rally Australia. Obviously there was some added pressure with this event from both myself and for the fact we were nominated as point scorer for the team, but we brought home good points for the team and a good result.
Rally Australia is a special event for us, not only for the fact that it’s the closest we get to a home round, but also because of the support we receive. From the large group of people we hosted, to the 100’s of other Kiwis that made the journey and the staggering support we received on social media – it was an amazing experience to be part of it all – so thank you!
We also identified before the rally that with our road position we could have another chance of a podium. Despite not achieving that podium, 5th overall personally rates higher than our podium in Sardegna. Why? Despite our slow start on Friday, once we sorted the problems we showed good speed and more consistent. It’s also clear that we don’t quite have the car of the top guys, but comparing ourselves against our teammates is a good benchmark. Also last year we finished more than 3 minutes for the rally winner, compared to this time year which the gap was 55 seconds.
While we had a mainly trouble-free rally, it was not all plain sailing. The dry/hard conditions on Friday morning caught us out a little with our tyre decision, and while I don’t think we made the wrong decision (all softs) we could have made a slightly better one. Then on Friday afternoon the car was handling very strange and I was unable to have full confidence. That night we identified with the data that we were indeed carrying a front diff problem. While Friday was a missed opportunity and we could have been more in the mix come Sunday morning, it still would have been difficult to get on the podium.
With a new diff fitted, some setup changes and the correct tyre decision for Saturday morning, we made the most of our road position and won both the morning stages, including the long 50km Nambucca stage. It was a good confidence booster and we were back in the fight – climbing to 5th but within 10 seconds of the lead. We were ready to push and at least try and get closer to the podium. On the repeat run, the road had swept off to become the hardest and most abrasive I have seen. In the past I would have taken it a little easier to look after the tyres, but whenever I have done this, we got to the end of the stage and the tyres were fine (so no need to take it easy). So this time I forgot about the tyres and pushed. At the 30km point, we were only 1.5 seconds down on leader Sebastion Ogier. Unfortunately with 15-20km to go, our front tyres were gone (down to the canvas on the inside) and we lost all ‘turn in’ to the slower corners. We then dropped 10 seconds, which while a little frustrating, I’m proud that we had the speed to that point and that we at least tried. The end of day night stage was a nice challenge, and while there was some hanging dust, I enjoyed it.
We started Sunday 20 seconds back in 5th, but on speed alone on a short day; we were never going to catch the leaders. So we had the best seat in the house to watch one of the closest battles ahead and pick up the pieces if anything happened. Nothing did and we ended up 5th, but with no attrition and very close competition, this is a result we can be happy with.
While Rally Australia is almost a home event and is a well-run rally, it is a pity to see so little spectators and media on a WRC rally. There simply seems to be little interest in Australia for one of the pinnacle forms of world motorsport with few spectators and if there were no Kiwi spectators who made the trip, there would not be many people left. In fact if our group was not at the end of the powerstage, Ogier would have had no one to celebrate his 3rd world title with. All this coupled with the fact that Australia runs a V8 supercar meeting the same weekend (and has done the previous years too). Rally New Zealand would offer a lot more ‘uniqueness’, competition, spectator/public interest and a country that would embrace the event. Rally NZ is ready to run a round of the WRC again, I just hope the promoters give it a chance again to come back in 2017 or 2018.
A huge thanks again to everyone for their support, our partners, shareholders and of course our team. Our tours also run faultlessly and everyone involved thoroughly enjoyed them. A huge thanks to Katie who put these together and Chris, Jackie, Clint, Richard, Adam and Lyndon who helped with the running of them.
We now have 3 days in NZ before leaving back to Europe where we head straight to Corsica test. With 2 tarmac rallies in a row, we need to focus improving on this surface to become more competitive. Ultimately, in the future we have to be fast on all rallies and all surfaces if we ever want to fight for the world title.
Thanks for all your support