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10 November 2005
After the 2005 PCWRC series' last event on the northernmost island of Japan, crews now head to the Southern Hemisphere for the final event of the season, Telstra Rally Australia. Famous for its super-fast stages run over packed red earth, the season-ending round is always a big test as the conditions take their toll throughout the three days' running.
This year's event, held from November 11-13, will once again be the title-decider in the Production Car championship.
Favourite for the laurels this season has to be Japanese veteran Toshi Arai, presently holding 40 championship points. His three wins; in the season-opening Swedish Rally, the Rally of Turkey, and at home in last month's Rally Japan, place him 7 points ahead of his nearest rival, Marcos Ligato on 33 points. The Argentinean is a serious contender for the title, having scored points on all events he contested this season. His tally of two third places, two seconds and a fourth make him by far the most consistent driver in the championship this year.
If there's any driver who could thwart Toshi's title aspirations, it's this man.
Another two points back, and in with a mathematical chance is Qatari driver Nasser Al Attiyah, on 31 points. Scoring his first PCWRC win in Argentina in the summer, multiple MERC (Middle East Rally Championship) champion Al Attiyah is at the top of his game at the moment and provides the other real challenge to Arai.
This year's Telstra Rally Australia follows familiar routes over very quick, narrow, forested red track to the south and east of Perth. The stages are of the tourist brochure-type, with the contrasting ochre earth and pine trees, with (usually) deep blue skies in the background making for an impacting scene.
It's not all as smooth as it looks however. The surface the crews have to negotiate is surprisingly low in grip, and this has caught out more than a few major drivers over the years. The surface is covered with little marble-like pebbles that prove extremely slippery when driven over at high speed. After the top cars have gone over a stage, the slower crews and those running down the order will have the advantage of a hard-packed surface underneath. In dry conditions, this can amount to a serious advantage - well over a second a kilometre.
With the characteristic speed of Rally Australia's stages come other attributes of modern-day rallying: jumps and water splashes. Leg two in particular is relished by rally fans as it features some of the biggest and most dramatic of both.
Beginning on Thursday night, competitors do two runs through the Gloucester Park Superspecial before regular stage competition starts on Friday. The three-day event covers a total of 355.39 competitive kilometers, run over 26 stages.
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All drivers tested very intensively for a total of six hours, making the test day unusually busy. Crews worked very hard to get the best settings on their cars as fast and efficiently as possible, ahead of the final round of the year.
The drivers at the test were Sebastian Beltran, Marcos Ligato, Nasser Al Attiyah, Toshi Arai, Aki Teiskonen, and Natalie Barratt. Nigel Heath was the final SUBARU runner, competing in a car that will be run on this event by Autotek, the team that also run Nasser's car. It is expected that Nigel will compete on next year's PCWRC. Mitsubishi driver Fumio Nutahara also joined the test.
Drivers reported being very satisfied on the day. The test day itself also went very well, no drivers running into any problems. There was also a tremendous barbeque lunch cooked by George Donaldson!