Pirelli Scorpion win in Rally Australia
With a surprising finish decided by the race judges, Rally Australia ended with Hirvonen extending his lead over Loeb, who obtained his fifth victory in the World Rally Championship 2009. The non-conformity of the anti-roll bar fitted on the Citroens of Loeb, Sordo and Ogier decided the final results of the difficult Australian round which was a tough challenge for the teams supported by the Pirelli technicians. Pirelli, the sole tire supplier of the WRC, supplied Scorpion tires - the most suitable for gravel tracks. The Citroen drivers were penalized by a minute, overturning the finishing order: Hirvonen (Ford) went from second to first and Latvala (Ford) from 5th to 4th. Now, with only two rallies left, Hirvonen has a 5-point lead over Loeb, while Citroen is still leading the manufacturers’ table with a 13-point lead over Ford. This was a nasty surprise for Loeb who hadn’t won since Argentina and who had driven an exemplary race in Australia.
Absent from the World Rally Championship calendar since 2006, Rally Australia moved to New South Wales for the first time this year, more than 3500 kilometers away from its former home in Perth. Consequently the gravel stages were a complete step into the unknown for both the competitors and Pirelli, which has an exclusive three-year deal to supply the World Rally Championship with tires up to the end of the 2010 season.
Although the Italian tire firm started the event with very little information about the conditions, Pirelli’s hard compound Scorpion rubber – which was being used for the last time this season – stood up to the task admirably. Among the many challenges faced by the crews were a wide range of weather conditions that varied from heavy rain to bright sunshine, sharp rocks, and changing grip levels. Despite these varying parameters, the competition was so close that the top three runners were covered by just a tenth of a second heading into the final day: a record for the World Rally Championship.
As well as counting for a round of the Production Car World Rally Championship, which is also supplied by Pirelli, Rally Australia was the venue for the Asia-Pacific selection in next year’s Pirelli Star Driver scheme. This program aims to give five drivers from FIA regional championships the chance to contest six rounds of the World Rally Championship in identical Group N cars. New Zealander Hayden Paddon, aged 22, was chosen to represent the Asia-Pacific region on the scheme next year thanks to a strong performance that eventually won him the Group N category in Australia. Newly-crowned Junior World Rally Champion Martin Prokop from the Czech Republic won the Production Car World Championship class.