UPDATED: Rally Australia has officially been cancelled. I swear Hayden Paddon is cursed this year.
Australia is on fire. There’s no simpler way to put it. There are more than 120 wildfires burning across 2.5 million acres in Queensland and New South Wales (where Rally Australia is held). Rally organizers have been working hard to find a way to still run an event, and as of earlier today have come up with a proposed schedule made up of four unique stages - two of them super specials - and a total of just 59 competitive stage miles, just over a quarter of the originally planned 201 miles. Sunday, as it stands, will be entirely super specials. If the FIA approves the proposed schedule this will be a very strange event.
Before we get any further, let’s do some catching up. As some may remember my laptop died just before the last round. Good news is I have my laptop back. Bad news is I lost all my files from the summer on because I got complacent with my backups. A hard lesson that now has me piecing together documents and financial records from emails and whatever other sources I can find. Good news though is that with the Fantasy WRC standings hosted online I didn’t lose that. So let’s get caught up on points because things got interesting.
Thanks to the three championship contenders finishing in the top 3 Wales was a points bonanza, with the high score for the round being a whopping 85 and only one player scoring below 70. James Beckett won the round but the real big deal was RubyLocks222, who moved to within a single point of the championship lead thanks to his dropped round being a lower score than that of FreddsterExprs, who has been leading since the second round of the championship.
While not quite to the same extent, the points were flowing in Spain as well. Ogier lost big on day 1 with a power steering failure that relegated him to eighth place and just four points. Sordo shined at home, finishing third, Tanak was his usual self, sitting fifth at the end of the first day due to road sweeping but bringing it back over the next two days to finish second (and in doing so take the title). But the man of the rally was Thierry Neuville, who drove a virtually flawless weekend to take his third win of the season. Fortunately almost everyone had Thierry on their roster. Unfortunately one of the three people who didn’t was Freddster. This not only dropped Freddster out of the lead, but down to third, with both RubyLocks and BeaterZ passing him. That said, the top three are only separated by 14 points going into the final round. Things could easily change again.
So let’s talk Australia, because this is going to be a unique challenge. Only 60 stage miles means there’s less time for things to go wrong. Mechanical issues are less likely and there’s fewer miles to make a mistake. On the other hand, drivers are likely going to push harder since fewer miles means less opportunity to make up lost time, which means the chance of a mistake may be higher. Your guess is as good as mine frankly.
We have three previous winners in attendance this year. Ogier is the only multiple winner, taking top honors in three of his four visits to Oz in his VW days. Since switching to the new spec car he hasn’t graced the podium down under though (it does need to be pointed out that last year that was in part due to him driving conservatively to ensure he won the title). Neuville and Latvala each have a win apiece in the new spec car. They also have a retirement apiece in the new spec car. The dark horse has to be Hayden Paddon, who in his five visits to Australia has finished, in order starting with 2013, sixth, fifth, fourth, third, and second. If you believe in patterns he’s due for the win. On the other hand, this will be his first event in the M-Sport Fiesta WRC, so who knows how he’ll get along with the car. Also of note, with the title now secure Tanak is off the leash and can go full trees or trophies mode. His record in Australia is less than stellar, one podium against three lackluster results, but past results have no bearing on gauging 2019's Ott Tanak.
Additional note, FIA regulations require a reduced points payout for the reduced mileage, roughly 1/3 the standard points. So 8 for a win, 6 for second, 5 for third, etc. We will not be doing this. Standard points breakdown will apply.
DEADLINE FOR PICKS: Event schedule isn’t finalized yet so IDK. Let’s say noon eastern on Thursday.
(5 point per stage penalty after this time.)
M-SPORT FORD WRT - FORD FIESTA RS WRC
Elfyn Evans (GBR) - Avg last 10 rounds: 9.2 - Avg Australia: 6.0
Teemu Suninen (FIN) - Avg last 10 rounds: 7.8 - Avg Australia: 0.0
Hayden Paddon (NZL) - Avg last 10 rounds: 9.6 - Avg Australia: 12.6
HYUNDAI SHELL MOBIS WRT - HYUNDAI I20 COUPE WRC
Craig Breen (IRL) - Avg last 10 rounds: 5.4 - Avg Australia: 3.0
Thierry Neuville (BEL) - Avg last 10 rounds: 14.3 - Avg Australia: 11.7
Dani Sordo (ESP) - Avg last 10 rounds: 9.2 - Avg Australia: 9.7
TOYOTA GAZOO RACING WRT - TOYOTA YARIS WRC
Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN) - Avg last 10 rounds: 6.5 - Avg Australia: 13.1
Ott Tänak (EST) - Avg last 10 rounds: 16.5 - Avg Australia: 8.0
Kris Meeke (GBR) - Avg last 10 rounds: 5.5 - Avg Australia: 8.3
CITROËN TOTAL ABU DHABI WRT - CITROËN C3 WRC
Sebastien Ogier (FRA) - Avg last 10 rounds: 12.6 - Avg Australia: 15.6
Esapekka Lappi (FIN) - Avg last 10 rounds: 6.0 - Avg Australia: 10.0