Sebastien Ogier can clinch his third World Rally Championship (WRC) in a row with a victory on Sunday over the forestry and farmland roads which make up Rally Australia.
France’s Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia have 207 points in the standings with three races left after Australia. He could also clinch the 2015 title if he finishes ahead of his Volkswagen teammate Jari-Matti Latvala of Finland, who is in second place with 114 points.
Andreas Mikkelsen of Norway, who finished third in the Rally of Germany, has 98 points after nine rounds. Volkswagen swept the podium in last month’s home race of the German manufacturer.
After a ceremonial start on Thursday night, the rally officially begins on Friday with three new first-day speed tests. The new stages of Utungun, Bakers Creek and Northbank, south of the event’s Coffs Harbour base, will be run in the morning and repeated in the afternoon.
“They are fast, technical, set in magnificent countryside and truly some of the best roads in the rally world,” clerk of the course Adrian Stafford said the Rally Australia website.
The stages are split between the Coffs Coast state forests and open farmland, with many of the country shire roads lined by trees that leave little room for error.
There will be two passes on Saturday through the 51km Nambucca stage, one of the longest and most difficult stages of the season. The 8km Valla stage is also driven twice, the second after dark.
Five more tests north of Coffs Harbour on Sunday complete the rally. The 17 stages cover 311km.
Norwegian driver Mads Ostberg and co-driver Jonas Andersson, who sit fourth in the overall standings, suffered minor injuries on Tuesday afternoon when their car crashed with a truck during a reconnaissance drive.
The head-on crash with the heavy vehicle occurred on a narrow section of roadway as the Citroen crew prepared pace notes.
“It took some time getting out of bed today,” Ostberg posted on Wednesday on his Facebook page. “We had quite the impact yesterday, but we were lucky. It could have been much worse when you look at our recce car.
“We’ve been cleared to continue by the medics. Luckily, there were no fractures, only two bruised ribs causing me a bit of discomfort. So we’re going to recce again today.”