With a re-named sponsor and restored championship status, the Rally Australia drew a world-class entry, an an unexpected victor.
Before you think that Australia’s contribution to the World Rally Championship has acquired a new sponsor, let me explain that it is the same one as last year, with a different name. Australian Telecommunications has combined bits of its former title to become known as Telstra, and was indeed as happy to back the event this year as it was to assist with communications equipment varying from ordinary telephones to computers to satellites. A boon for any rally organiser!
Last year the Rally Australia was one of those which lost its full World Championship status and qualified only for the 2-wheel-drive series. This year is was back at full status and amassed a striking field of works cars and drivers to head the good array of privateers. Between them they produced a start list numbering all of 94.
Western Australia has been the home of Australia’s premier rally since it began in 1988. Prior to that, and several years before, the country’s best known event internationally was the Southern Cross Rally right on the other side of the continent, using forest stages in the mountainous country just inland from Port Macquarie.
The route of this year’s Telstra Rally Australia went in three loops, each starting and finishing at Perth where the rally was based The first day was devoted to a “superspecial” over a purpose-built track on the outskirts of Perth. The thirty special stages (313 miles) of the rally proper began the nest day.
Each of the four teams contesting the World Championship entered a team in the event Toyota with four cars, Subaru and Mitsubishi with three apiece and Ford with two. The Toyota line-up consisted of Group A Celica GT-Fours for Juha Kankkunen/ Nicky, Grist, Didier Auriol/Denis Giraudet, Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha and Yoshio Fujimoto/Arne Hertz.
Mitsubishi Ralliart’s three Lancers were driven by Kenneth Eriksson/Staffan Parmander, Tommi Makinen/Seppo Harjanne and the Australian pair Ed Ordynski/Mark Stacey in a Group N version of the car. The German arm of Ralliart entered three Gp N Lancers for Isoide Holderied/Tina Thorner, Jorge Recalde/Martin Christie and Rui Madeira/Nano Silva. David and Kate Officer drove a Group A Lancer privately.
The three Group A Subaru Imprezas were driven by Colin McRae/Derek Ringer, Carlos Sainz/Luis Moya and Peter Bourne/Tony Sircombe.
The Ford line-up consisted of two Group A Escort RS Cosworths for Francois Delecour/Catherine Francois and Bruno Thiry/Stephane Prevot.
There was a good array of private non-Australian entrants, most of them from the Pacific/Far East area, though mention must be made of that adventurous pair from Germany, Michael Kahlfuss and Ronald Bauer. They have taken their little Trabant to all manner of rallies, including even the Safari, and they turned up in Australia driving the same venerable car.
The first day’s “superspecial” proved very little, as most such stages do, but it was interesting in that it was laid out on a purpose-built double figure of eight, allowing two cars to be on the track at the same time, and that cars started in reverse order.
Early the following day, just after Recalde collected a puncture and finished the first stage of the day on a flat tyre, Bourne went off the road and could not continue, leaving Subaru one car down at a very early stage in the event. Later Eriksson lost a little time when he spun, whilst McRae damaged the rear of his car, Thiry missed a turn and had to spin to face the right way again, and Auriol bent a rear wheel.
Recalde kept bumping into things, causing superficial damage, while Schwarz felt that his engine would not rev as it should, but the second serious mishap of the day came when Sainz punctured his radiator. He struggled on for a while, then having mechanics try their best to stop the leak, but the damage had been done and it was not long before his retirement with a cooked engine left Subaru with two cars down on the first day.
On stage 12, the last proper stage before another trip around the Langley Park “superspecial”, Auriol rolled his Toyota. He continued for a while, but the frontal damage was too serious to continue.
At the end of the day, Kankkunen, an old hand at the Western Australia game with four wins under his belt, led by 17 seconds from Makinen. Schwarz was just another six seconds behind. Then came McRae, another 1m 44s back, followed by Delecour and Thiry.
The second full day produced some very close fighting indeed, ending with Eriksson and McRae sharing the lead. Eriksson led after the second stage when Kankkunen overshot a junction and dropped to fourth place. At that time, Makinen was second and held that place. However. McRae began a serious recovery and by the time the rally got into the Bunnings area, the Scot had moved up to equal Eriksson in the lead, with Makinen just five seconds behind.
Schwarz had no working intercom for a while, whilst Thiry was troubled on one stage when his power steering stopped working. On the third of the Bunnings stages, immediately after the short stop. Delecour went off the road and hit a tree head-on, causing damage which could not be fixed and leaving Ford with just one car. Makinen still held third place despite having gone off the road momentarily. Thiry had a minor spin whilst Schwarz needed his front wheels realigned. At the Perth overnight halt, Eriksson and McRae were 18 seconds ahead of Makinen. Kankkunen followed after another 46 seconds and Schwarz after another 2m 15s.
The tense game of cat and mouse continued into the final day. Eriksson was fastest on the first stage by seven seconds, whilst Makinen was second fastest. It seemed that the Mitsubishis had really found conditions in which they revelled. The Toyotas, having had new shock absorbers fitted after the morning’s restart, seemed to have some handling problems. Schwarz said that his dampers were locking up solidly. Makinen had a misfortune on the second stage when he broke his front left wishbone as he cut a corner and clipped a stone. He lost about two minutes and dropped to fourth, behind Kankkunen. He also had to take it easy on the following stage for it was not until after that one that there was the opportunity to change the wishbone.
Later, McRae made a best time, reducing Eriksson’s lead by three seconds, but then the Swede took the bit between his teeth and showed who was in charge. Towards the end, with just one stage to go, McRae said he was backing off, but some observers pointed out that his best time on the final stage indicated that this was not the case: Obviously they had not considered that perhaps Eriksson had backed off too.
That is the way the rally ended, as close and exciting a finish as has happened anywhere, save perhaps for the Safari when two rival crews dead-heated. The circus now moves to Spain for the tarmac-surfaced Catalonia Rally, after which the final round will be Britain’s RAC Rally. The situation is far from being cut and dried. Although Kankkunen still leads McRae, his advantage is only seven points, and just 14 points separate first from fifth. There’s a very good chance that the series will be decided largely in the forests of Kielder and Wales.
Telstra Rally of Australia — 15-18 September, 1995
1: Kenneth Eriksson / Steffan Parmander – Mitsubishi Lancer Ev3, GpA
2: Colin McRae / Derek Ringer – Subaru Impreza 555, GpA
3: Juha Kankkunen / Nicky Grist – Toyota Celica GT-Four, GpA
4: Tommi Makinen / Seppo Harjanne – Mitsubishi Lancer Ev3, GpA
5: Armin Scwarz / Klaus Wacha – Toyota Celica GT-Four, GpA