The Kennards Hire Rally Australia began on Friday 18th November, over a week after the whole rallying world woke to the shock that Volkswagen will leave WRC at the end of the 2016 season. It was in fact the German team’s Andreas Mikkelsen to take the lead in the first special stage, with a 1.3 second lead over DMACK’s Estonian driver Ott Tänak. Mads Østberg took his Ford Fiesta to the stage finish on third place only a mere tenth of a second behind Tänak.
The longer the first day went, the stronger it became evident that Volkswagen Motorsport would snatch a victory in its last rally. After the fifth special stage Raceway SSS I the top four was VW, Hyundai, VW and Hyundai. Mikkelsen held first place for Volkswagen with a 14.2 difference to Hayden Paddon in second. The already certain champion Sebastien Ogier was third almost six seconds behind Paddon. Thierry Neuville completed the top four with his Hyundai being led by Ogier by a single second.
The first day of the Kennards Hire Rally Australia ended with special stage 11, a gruesome route of only 1.27 kilometers long. Its king was Volkswagen’s Sebastien Ogier edging in front of Hyundai’s Hayden Paddon by 0.8 seconds. This would mean that after the first day Volkswagen had a one-two with Mikkelsen in the lead by over 15 seconds to his teammate Sebastien Ogier on second place. Thierry Neuville was third 7.1 seconds behind Ogier.
The second day of the rally began with one of the longest stages of the season, the 50.8 kilometer long Nambucca. This route was run in both ways during the day. This stage saw the rise of the third Volkswagen driver Jari-Matti Latvala climb up the standing after a disappointing Friday. He finished second only 2.5 seconds behind Hayden Paddon. Volkswagen took the third and fourth place with Mikkelsen and Ogier in that exact order. The real winner of Saturday was Sebastien Ogier, who by the end of the day had sliced over 13 seconds off of his teammate Andreas Mikkelsen’s lead. This set up a fierce fight for Sunday over the last win of the season and the last for Volkswagen in WRC, at least for a while.
Sunday started with the 19th special stage of the Australian rally. Mikkelsen had obviously woken up early with a clear goal to win the rally. From the five stages held that day, the Norwegian won the first three and cemented his lead on SS20, which he won by almost 20 seconds to Latvala and his biggest threat Ogier. Ogier finished strong by winning the last two stages making it five out of five for Volkswagen. This however wasn’t enough for the French to win his 5th rally in a row this season as Mikkelsen finished the last stage with a 15 second difference to Ogier.
So Andreas Mikkelsen won the Kennards Hire Rally Australia raising his stakes in the drivers’ market for next season. This is huge for the Norwegian as he was probably the least sought after out of the three now unemployed Volkswagen drivers. He even had a hidden message inside his car that was seen in the TV picture while he was interviewed. The message simply stated “Hire us” referring to himself and his co-driver Anders Jaeger.
Australia also provided us with another strong if not dominant display from the German team Volkswagen. Sadly this is the last we’ll see them for a while. Australia clearly raised the question about the level of performance and competitiveness for 2017 with Volkswagen out of the picture. We will just have to hope that one of the existing teams or Toyota or Citroen will fill the huge hole Volkswagen left on the World Rally Championship.
Official stage times from the WRC website:http://www.wrc.com/en/wrc/live/stage-times/page/60-294-59--.html