Rally Australia could have been one of the fastest gravel rallies of the season. The 2019 event had to be cancelled because of raging bushfires. This route preview is retained for future reference.
Rally Australia was first introduced to the WRC in 1989. It became soon known for its Langley Park twin-car super special and the Bunnings forest jumps, situated on the West coast of Australia, in Perth. After 2006 Australia disappeared from the calendar, returning three years later on the East coast, in Kingscliff. Another year off and a relocation finally landed the rally in Coffs Harbour where it has been now run since 2011. Next year the rally is replaced by New Zealand, but is rumored to return in 2021, with yet another relocation.
After Rally Poland disappeared from the calendar, Rally Australia became the second-fastest gravel rally of the season. In terms of average speed it’s still closer to the likes of Wales and Portugal than the blistering pace of Finland, but some stages or sections in Australia are very fast.
The roads are often narrow with a firm base and loose gravel on top. Some sections are straightforwardly fast and some more technical, but the smallest gears are still rarely needed outside the junctions. There’s a fair amount of crests, jumps and surprising bumps. The trees are often close to the road with no ditches in between. On dry weather dust can be an issue, whereas in rainy conditions the roads can be very slippery, as we saw last year.
One unique feature about Rally Australia has been utilizing the same roads on multiple stages during the rally. Sometimes even a whole stage can driven in reverse direction on another day. This is possible, because the road base is so firm that big ruts aren’t cut up. Then again, the short entry list also gives a hand in this.
The stage count of 25 is the highest of the season. However, five of them are super specials, which makes it one less forest stage than in Rally Finland.
The shakedown is new for this year, driven at Lower Bucca State Forest. Most of the route is familiar from last year’s Sapphire stage, with the first 700 metres from 2017’s Eastbank. It also shares the roads between two stages of the rally.
The beginning is narrow and quite technical. At 0.7 km it becomes a bit faster. After the junction at 1.9 km it gets angular with long straights alternating with medium fast corners. The first straight also has some heavy bumps. The following tight corner is where Ott Tänak’s rally ended last year.
This is a decent representation of the Friday and Sunday stages, and not only because two stages are driven partly on the same roads. However, the Saturday stages will need a different approach and the most high-speed types of road are missing. The stage also doesn’t have a proper jump or a water splash.
For the first time since 2013, the rally starts on Thursday. For the occasion, there’s not only one run of the Destination NSW Super Special but two.
The stage layout has been updated from all the previous years. The loop structure with a donut in the middle is now gone. Instead the stage turns back at the end of its route and then returns to the start using same path. The surface alternates between gravel and tarmac or at least sandy tarmac, and there’s a jump on the way.
The route isn’t polluted with donuts and chicanes like usually, and some of the corners seem to have a natural flow. However, the round-trip structure seems boring.
Friday takes the crews North from Coffs Harbour. These stages are typically fast, narrow and bumpy. This day will offer the highest amount of familiar sections from last year.
Coldwater was introduced to the rally last year. It’s related to the Shipmans stage used earlier in the rally, being a partial version driven in the reversed direction.
Coldwater starts on a quite narrow forest road with banks and trees close to the road. It’s mostly medium fast and technical but some passages are straighter and faster. There’s a fair amount of jumps and bumps.
At 5.2 km there’s a turn on to a slightly wider, firmer and smoother road. This section is very fast and includes the jump where Molly Taylor hit a haybale last year at 7 km.
A series of tighter bends appears at 7.9 km. Subsequently the rhythm becomes fast and flowing, a bit similar to Wales. At 10.9 km there is a big watersplash where Ott Tänak lost most of his front aero last year.
At 11 km the stage starts becoming more open in terms of the vegetation with trees further from the road and some open fields as well. A couple of narrow bridges are also hazardous on this fast section.
For this year the route has been extended by 2.8 km. The section includes two junction turns and between them a straight with deceptive jumps.
Sherwood is the longest stage of the day at 26 km. It’s driven the same way as the two previous years. Before that a part of the stage has been a part of two other stages in 2012 and 2013.
Last year Sherwood was clearly the fastest stage of the rally with 127 km/h of winning average speed on the second run, making it the fifth fastest stage of the season and the fastest outside Finland.
Sherwood starts quite fast and angular on a medium wide road which has a slightly soft and loose surface. At 1 km it narrows and becomes more technical with a narrow wooden bridge at 1.8 km. After that it’s back to medium wide and very fast, with an angular character. Then the stage becomes super fast with a short tarmac passage at 4.9 km.
A junction turn at 9.7 km takes the stage onto a slightly narrower and softer road. It’s again very fast with some surprising bumps.
Last year there was a haybale chicane at 15.4 km. Jari-Matti Latvala hit the chicane and then a tractor fixing it distracted Andreas Mikkelsen for a roll. On the second run, Thierry Neuville hit the same chicane. For this year the chicane has apparently been replaced with a short deviation to a smaller road. Thus the rally shouldn’t have any haybale chicanes at all.
A turn onto a more technical road follows at 17.8 km. After this the stage mostly alternates between super fast and straight, or technical and medium fast. At 23 km there is another bumpy straight where Ott Tänak jumped off the road last year and got a puncture.
Kookaburra Road is a new stage title, but the roads in this area are familiar to the drivers from various stages. The beginning of this stage was used on the 2018 Sapphire and 2017 Eastbank stages, whereas the ending was used on the 2018 Coramba and 2017 Bucca stages.
The start is on a narrow forest road. It’s very fast and partly bumpy at first. The surface becomes rougher at 0.5 km and at 1.6 km there’s a sudden slow corner.
A tight uphill junction takes the stage on a similarly narrow but smoother and very fast road. At 6.2 km there’s a pair of junctions after which the road is medium fast and technical. A super fast passage at 11.1 km leads into a junction onto a shortcut which hasn’t been used before in the rally. The ending then alternates between fast passages and more technical places.
Saturday takes the crews South of Coffs Harbour. The stages in this area have a distinct character with wider and flowing roads, resembling slightly Rally New Zealand. The routes also feature many tarmac sections and bridges. Curiously, all the forest stages featured in the 2015 and 2016 rally, but in the opposite direction.
The day opens with Northbank Reverse. Northbank featured in the rally only in 2015 and 2016, then in the original direction. The road is medium wide and smooth with lots of loose gravel. The corners are cambered and for the most part the stage runs in open fields. There are some tarmac patches and bridges here and there.
The beginning of the stage is medium fast and technical with a constant flow of corners. There’s a fast passage at 4 km after which it returns to similar pace as in the beginning. Then the last 1.8 km of the stage are again faster and less technical.
Similarly as the previous one, Utungun Reverse is only familiar from 2015 and 2016. The road is a bit wider than on Northbank but otherwise has a similar character to it.
The beginning is quite twisty with a few hairpins, before it gets faster at 2 km with some long corners and only a few slower places. The last 0.7 km are driven on tarmac. The stage ends at the bridge which Jari-Matti Latvala hit in 2016 when it was at the third corner of the whole rally!
Last year the long Nambucca stage was reversed and split into two shorter parts. This year they’re driven the same way. The first of them is Argents Hill Reverse. This stage also featured partly in 2011 as the stage Grace.
Argents Hill starts on a medium wide and slightly soft road. It’s angular with very fast passages alternating with tighter corners, although some of them are long with a nice flow. At 9 km there’s a tarmac section which lasts for 800 metres and involves two junction turns. After this the stage goes into a forest and the road is slightly narrower and more technical for about a kilometre. Then the rest of the stage is fast and flowing with a couple of tighter bends near the finish.
The other half of Nambucca, Welshes Creek Reverse is the longest stage of the rally at 28 km. Last year it was the second fastest stage of the rally with 115 km/h of average speed on the second run.
This stage starts on a quite narrow road between banks. This very fast section has some big crests, some of which turn into jumps.
At 1.8 km there’s a technical passage where the road widens a bit. After that long straights alternate between medium fast corners with one narrow bridge. At 4.7 km the stage is very fast and driven partly on tarmac.
A pair of square corners at 8.8 km begins a more technical section with a drop on the left side. A junction at 12.8 km makes the stage wider and faster between open hills. The corners are technical, but not slow. At 17.3 km the surface becomes again tarmac. This high-speed passage contains a tricky bridge and a junction.
The stage returns onto medium wide gravel at 18.4 km. Now the surface is slightly looser and softer, but the overall character remains technical-but-not-slow. A pair of bridges with a tight tarmac corner between them is hazardous at 19.5 km, but after that there’s another top-speed passage, partly on tarmac. Another more technical forest passage begins at 22.4 km but soon it gets again very fast.
A tight junction at 24.6 km proceeds on similar roads with fast passages and medium-fast technical corners. This section has another pair of bridges with tarmac between, and another short tarmac patch. At 27.1 km there is a twisty technical passage with the last corner on tarmac over a bridge. Then a fast passage leads to a long uphill hairpin before the finish.
Raleigh is a super special driven on a rallycross circuit. It’s tackled once before the Saturday midday service. It’s the only stage to be driven only once in the rally.
The stage used to be called Raceway before a slight facelift with the name change last year. It’s the only single-car rallycross track stage of the season.
Raleigh is driven mostly on tarmac with a gravel section halfway through the lap. The stage requires each driver to do almost two full laps. The track has a constant flow of tight corners, which means it never gets very fast. At the same time the track is wide enough for proper slides. It’s a drivable stage with a natural flow, but still nothing too interesting.
It’s also worth noticing that the two runs of Argents Hill Reverse and Welshs Creek Reverse are driven right after the midday service. In turn, this means that the day both opens and closes with the pair of the short stages Northbank Reverse and Utungun Reverse.
Sunday is again driven in the same area as Friday, even partly on the same roads. The day is contested mostly on narrow forest roads, including some of the most technical and rough roads of the whole rally. At 81 km, it’s the longest Sunday of the season, with even a midday service.
Mount Coramba is the day’s longest test at 19 km and possibly also the trickiest. It’s essentially a combination of last year’s Coramba beginning and Sapphire ending. In addition a loop near the end is familiar from the 2015 Bucca Long stage.
The beginning is on a quite narrow forest road. Mostly it’s quite technical and bumpy with faster passages right at the start as well as at 1.2 and 4 km. The place where Thierry Neuville span last year and subsequently broke the rear suspension was 900 metres from the start.
After the junction turn at 5.2 km the stage utilizes a bit of the Kookaburra Road stage from Friday, in reversed direction. After this fast passage the road is mostly fast and flowing with bumps and big crests, but some corners are very slow and technical. One slippery bend at 8.1 km took Ott Tänak as its victim last year
At 10.2 km there’s a junction, a technical passage, a shift onto tarmac and then a 90° junction. After a long acceleration on a medium wide tarmac the surface returns onto gravel as the stage dives into a forest and becomes instantly twisty and technical. A tricky junction at 12 km makes the road very narrow, but another junction 600 metres later turns back onto a medium wide road, which is medium fast and turns all the time.
At 14.3 km a wide tarmac road is used for a short bit before turning onto a narrow and rough gravel road. It’s also bumpy and technical, with first a steep climb, then a tricky downhill section. There’s also a couple of places where water usually gathers. Just before the finish there’s a faster passage in an area where the trees have been harvested.
Lower Bucca is another mixed bag from the past years, but also from just days before. Two bits of road will be shared with the shakedown, but in reverse direction. Similarly the stage also shares three bits with Kookaburra Road from Friday, one of them in reversed direction. The beginning of the 2017 Eastbank route contained most of this stage but in the other direction. The last time this route was driven in this direction was in 2011.
The very beginning hasn’t actually ever been used in the rally before. It’s a fast and medium wide road with a good surface. After 750 metres there’s a junction turn onto a narrower, fast-flowing forest road.
At 1.4 km there’s a sudden dropping 45° junction turn onto a narrow, bumpy and rough road which is first technical, then faster. It ends at 3 km into a hairpin junction, after which the stage alternates between medium fast technical and straightforward fast passages. At 7.5 km there’s a high-speed section, then again a medium fast technical part with a rougher surface. Finally the last kilometre is again faster.
Wedding Bells is a familiar season-concluding power stage. For this year it’s driven just like last year, but the stage is preceded by 3 km of never before driven road. The new section is mainly uphill and could be relatively fast with some technical passages.
Where the stage joins last year’s route, it’s a narrow forest road with an angularly technical character. At 3.6 km there’s an especially tricky double hairpin. After a slightly faster but still technical section there’s another hairpin junction onto a slower and technical road. At 5.7 km it becomes faster and less technical.
A pair of junctions leads onto a very rough and difficult passage, but after that it’s again similar as before, except that there is more bumps. Another more technical and slow passage appears at 8.6 km. Then towards the finish it’s faster with a jump, some spectacular bends and a water splash before the finish .
Road conditions and starting order
Rally Australia is notorious for having loose gravel on its hard-based roads. Last year Sebastien Ogier lost 41 seconds to the leader after the first day gravel stages being first on the road. Without his teammates slowing down to let him pass, he would have been ninth fastest, the slowest WRC car to survive the day without major issues or mistakes.
EDIT: 29.10. Added information about Sherwood chicane being replaced.
EDIT 4.11. Added information about Hyundai driver lineup change.
EDIT 12.11. The Rally is canceled.