World Champion-elect Sébastien Ogier believes one of his teammates has the best chance of achieving a final win for Volkswagen Motorsport as the team prepare for tomorrow’s start of Kennards Hire Rally Australia.
While the four-time champion staked his claim by posting the fastest time (3m.01.5sec) in today’s 5.2km shakedown session, the advantage was small. Teammate Andreas Mikkelsen was hard on his heels (3m.01.6sec) with DMACK WRT’s Ott Tänak third fastest (3m.02.3sec).
Hyundai Motorsport teammates Thierry Neuville and Hayden Paddon were equal fourth (3m.02.5sec) in the session, which provided an unofficial form guide to the 13th round of the FIA World Rally Championship on the Coffs Coast.
After securing 12 championships, this weekend will be an emotional end to four dominant seasons for Volkswagen, which announced recently it would not continue in the WRC elite category.
Sentiment, though, is unlikely to get in the way of determination to get the job done. Ogier will be doing his best, but is predicting that one of his teammates is likely to take an historic final win for the team.
“We had a good run this morning and the car is going well as always,” he said.
“We have a hard weekend ahead of us but we try always to do our best. The profile of the road is beautiful here, so we will try to enjoy. When I say hard, I mean for the conditions.
“I wish for a win, but if I am a bit honest I think my chances are very little. Running first on the road in one of the toughest events of the season, probably I won’t be fighting for the victory this weekend but I will give it everything I have.
“I think Jari-Matti [teammate Jari-Matti Latvala] has a good card in his hands to make something good this weekend and I will fight for anything I can get.”
Ogier’s other teammate, Andreas Mikkelsen, was second fastest today, boosting confidence for his bid to make it a Volkswagen one-two in the final season standings.
Mikkelsen’s friend and rival Thierry Neuville from Hyundai Motorsport currently stands in his way, with a 14-point advantage.
Neuville’s Kiwi teammate Hayden Paddon is fourth in the standings, but at just three points behind Mikkelsen, is well placed to ruin the party Volkswagen is hoping for.
“I have an important event this weekend so we will try to push hard,” Mikkelsen said.
“If he [Neuville] does a good rally, more or less I have to win, so for sure I have to try as hard as I can and see where we are on Sunday. We also have a charging Paddon behind us and I am sure he will do everything he can, but I think too that Jari-Matti is the one with the cards in his hands and he should take this.”
The teams expect heat and dust will be an issue over the weekend. Temperatures for the three days are forecast to be in the high 20s/early 30s, which could affect tyre wear as well as making things uncomfortable for the crews in their heavy protective race suits and helmets.
No rain is predicted but winds of up to 25kmh may help stop the dust hanging in the air and making vision difficult.
After a ceremonial start this evening in the centre of Coffs Harbour, a total of 72 cars in the WRC, national and State championship rounds will head out tomorrow for the first of 23 competition stages and 300-plus kilometres in the forests and hills north and south of the Coffs Harbour event headquarters.
The rally – and the 2016 season – ends with a ceremonial podium and traditional champagne spray in Coffs Harbour on Sunday afternoon.
Spectating highlights include the Destination NSW Super Special Stage, 51km Nambucca stage on Saturday and the season-ending Wedding Bells televised Power Stage on Sunday.
Tickets are on sale through www.rallyaustralia.com.au and ticketek.com