From Adrian Kirk-Burnnand [ 30/10/2001 ].
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The high-speed "Some Like It Hot" penultimate round of the 2001 World Rally Championship, Rally Australia, starts this Thursday - November 1 from the city of Perth, capital of Western Australia. It's a high-speed gravel event with a surface unique to the Championship : - the stages in the main are covered by a thin layer of ball bearing like bauxite gravel, which when dry can be difficult even to walk on. This surface creates a strong challenge for chassis and tyre engineers, but has also given Australia the reputation as a tactical event with drivers keen to secure the best road surface through the stages.
Starting position on the road is crucial. Running first is a severe handicap, and as more of the loose layer of marbles is swept off the road by every passing car, there are clear advantages for those running further down the order. With this in mind 2001 will see the launch of a new starting order system designed to reduce the amount of tactical driving seen in previous years, where competitors have slowed deliberately to avoid being awarded the dubious honour of first place on the road. Instead of cars starting in the order they finished the previous day's leg, the new system allows drivers to pick their own position on the road.
For the first full day of competition, priority WRC drivers will take turns (in championship order) to choose where they wish to start. For legs two and three they will also be allowed to select their road position for the following day's stages - although this time the leader of the rally will pick first, followed by the second and so on.
The season is heading for a nail biting finale and competition for the 2001 FIA drivers' title is fierce. Colin McRae and Tommi Makinen are tied at the top of the table with 40 points, Richard Burns is on 34 with Carlos Sainz on 33. As there are still 20 points still available on the final two rounds, Harri Rovanpera (27 points) and Gilles Panizzi (22 points) round off the six drivers who are mathematically able to clinch the title.
The Subaru World Rally Team will be running three cars in Australia for Richard Burns / Robert Reid, Petter Solberg / Phil Mills and Toshihiro Arai / Glenn Macneall. Richard and Petter will be nominated to score manufacturers' points for Subaru.
The Subaru Allstars team will also be running Impreza WRC2001's for Oman's Hamed Al Wahaibi and the Austrian driver Achim Mörtl.
Richard Burns "I've got a clear understanding of what I need to do in Australia. I'm just going to go for it - I can't win the championship if I don't. I need to get a good result here and in GB to win the title fight and I'm feeling very positive about the situation. If you were to ask me to pick two events to score maximum points on, then Australia and GB would be the ones."
Petter Solberg "Corsica was a good rally for me, so I'm going to Australia with plenty of confidence in the car and my driving. I doubt I'll have the best position on the road for the first leg, but that's the rally - it's just one of the features of the event that you have to work with. I must say that / believe the rally is one of the best in the championship, but it's a very difficult one too. It's looking good this year though - I'll be trying my best."
Toshihiro Arai "I've done the rally four times before, but mainly in a group N car - so this will be only my second time in a WRC spec Impreza. I think maybe my starting place of 3rd or 4th on the road will be a disadvantage on the slippery stages, but my plan is to drive well, get experience and to finish somewhere in the single figures!
Subaru Team Principal David Lapworth on the event: "Australia is a very fast gravel event, and one that we have enjoyed considerable success on in the past. The Impreza seems well suited to the stage conditions, and after our last gravel outing in New Zealand we're confident we have the most competitive package. The cars we will use in Australia incorporate a few small developments, but on the whole they are similar in specification to those that were used in New Zealand."
"It's going to be an interesting event this year. The organisational changes that allow drivers to pick their own road positions should put an end to the tactical driving we're seen in the past. Now I expect we'll see the drivers going flat out from the start, and the only tactical thinking will depend on how important it is for individual drivers to score points in the championship. Our team objective for this season remains to get Richard the drivers' championship, and in Australia that means beating Tommi and Colin. If we can help him to achieve this then we'll be in a really good position for Rally GB."
I'll personally be at the event following every possible stage and even today (Tuesday) I'll be heading off to the Langley Park shakedown in a few hours. So look forward to some reports each night and a heap of great (I hope) photos. The Subaru blue and yellow will get a lot of representation and yelling for over the next few days!