Innovative Rally Australia continues to impress

| Photographer Credit: Peter Whitten

It’s fair to say that you won’t find many Kiwis happy to throw their support behind Rally Australia when their own Rally New Zealand continues to miss out on a chance of being part of ‘the big dance’.

But the reality is, that’s the way things stand, and we should be happy that the Southern Hemisphere still has a round of the WRC when there seems to be constant push from the WRC Promotor to include more events in Europe.

Let’s not get into the politics here, but Rally Australia fully deserves its place in the WRC.

First run as a test-event in 1988, the event debuted as part of the WRC in 1989 and, until 2006, was based out of Perth, in Western Australia.

Right from the outset, Rally Australia was an innovator in the WRC, and won the ‘Rally of the Year’ award on several occasions.

It was (and continues to be) an event that throws up its own unique challenges, although those challenges are perhaps less evident than they were back in the rally’s early years.

For a start, the rally quickly became famous for its incredible slippery ‘ball bearing’ roads.

Rally Australia’s stages had a thick layer of bauxite stones on them that were difficult to walk on, let alone drive fast on!

Back in the day it made running first on the road even more of a disadvantage than at just about any other event in the world, and led to an unpopular ballot draw for road position on a couple of occasions.

Under the leadership of the forward-thinking Garry Connelly, Rally Australia never stood still. A prime example is the world-renowned Langley Park Super Special Stage, which is still widely regarded as the greatest super special stage of all time.

Rally Australia initially tried spectator stages on tarmac in the inner-city suburb of Northbridge, and at places like Richmond Raceway and Curtain University, but it was the Langley Park stage that really started to set the event apart.

It was a two car at a time, side-by-side race right on the banks of Perth’s Swan River, that started with a flat-out blast down Riverside Drive, before turning into the parkland on a stage that included a tunnel and a jump.

1992 - Juha Kankkunen/Juha Piironen (Lancia Delta Integrale) beating Carlos Sainz/Luis Moya (Toyota Celica Turbo 4WD) at the Perth Superspecial - Credit Martin Holmes Rallying
1992 – Juha Kankkunen/Juha Piironen (Lancia Delta Integrale) beating Carlos Sainz/Luis Moya (Toyota Celica Turbo 4WD) at the Perth Superspecial – Credit Martin Holmes Rallying

It was here, in 1995, that Toyota Team Europe strangely (and secretly) unveiled their illegal turbo restrictor. When the factory GT-Fours were noticeably faster than their rivals off the start line, it quickly sparked the attention of the FIA technical gurus, and eventually led to a 12 month ban for Toyota.

Five years later, in 2000, the event unveiled the state-of-the-art ‘Eye In The Sky’ technology that saw a helicopter follow the cars and transmit the vision via a microwave link to a ground station located on high ground within a range of 100 kilometres.

It was technology that Connelly said was a “revolutionary breakthrough in the field of rally safety”. Eighteen years later, the championship’s WRC All Live coverage is a continuation of that technology.

These days, the rally is based thousands of kilometres away on the NSW coast, with Coffs Harbour being a picture-perfect seaside location.

Aside from the closeness of the stages to the rally base, most Australians would admit that (stage wise) it’s not the best location in the country to host the World Rally Championship event, but the NSW state government are now the ones footing the bill, and that’s reason enough.

As with any rally, famous stages or iconic spectator locations soon emerge. The rally has been based in Coffs Harbour since 2011, and in that time stages like Nambucca and Wedding Bells have become fan favourites.

No matter where the rally’s based, watching the best drivers in the fastest cars never disappoints.

And when you have idyllic beaches to lounge on after the rally is finished, it just makes that trip to Australia even more special.

Peter Whitten

Peter has been the editor of RallySport Magazine since its inception in 1989, in both printed and online form. He is a long-time competitor, event organiser and official, as well as working in the media.

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