WRC drivers, cars arrive in Coffs for final countdown
The 25th Rally Australia kicks off with a Rally Show and Ceremonial Start on Thursday afternoon in the centre of Coffs Harbour, but drivers will be busy over the next three days with promotional appearances, course reconnaissance and testing around the Coffs Coast.
Competition starts on Friday morning and runs until Sunday afternoon on 23 special stages and 313km of forestry and shire roads to the north and south of the Coffs Harbour service park at C.ex Coffs International Stadium.
Organisers have attracted 75 entries in the WRC and National championship rounds - the biggest list of WRC starters since 2009.
There is plenty of competition is in store, even though Frenchman Sébastien Ogier already secured this year's drivers' championship in Spain a few weeks ago.
Thierry Neuville (Belgium), Andreas Mikkelsen (Norway), Hayden Paddon (New Zealand) and Dani Sordo (Spain) all have a chance of securing the runner-up position in the championship.
Finnish ace Esapekka Lappi is on a win-or-bust mission for the WRC2 drivers' title, while in the Kumho Tyre Australian Rally Championship, Simon Evans, Molly Taylor and Harry Bates are separated by just six points in their chase for the 2016 crown.
The rally will be fans' chance to celebrate the end of two eras in the world's most challenging international motorsport series.
Although his championship is in the bag, Ogier will be going flat out to win his fourth straight Rally Australia and help his Volkswagen Motorsport team end its WRC involvement on a high note. The team has announced it will park its WRC cars in 2017 to focus on a new program providing customer rally cars, leaving Ogier, the WRC's hottest property, to find a new team.
And the elite drivers of the WRC will be seen in the current-generation cars for the last time before new, faster and more exciting-looking cars from Toyota, Hyundai, Citroen and M-Sport Ford join the fray from 2017.
Rally Australia will offer a wide choice of spectating options, from dedicated points west of Macksville and Nambucca to the Bucca region to the north and the spectacular Destination NSW Super Special Stage on the Jetty Foreshore in Coffs Harbour.
Against harbour and ocean backdrops, the Destination NSW Super Special Stage on Friday and Saturday afternoons will test drivers with a motocross-style banked corner, a 360-degree turn around a hay bale and a jump, all easily viewed from the general spectator area.
Free attractions will include the start and finish ceremonies in the Coffs Harbour CBD and driver appearances during lunchtime and evening service breaks at the international stadium, along with evening stage appearances for the daily top three, souvenir sales, a classic car show and a WRC6 video game challenge.