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Rally Australia 2019 cancelled in face of bushfire threat

By Tim Robson, 12 Nov 2019 Car News

Rally Australia fires 2019

UPDATED Rally teams furious with Rally Australia organisers after delaying cancellation

UPDATED 12/11 - Organisers have finally cancelled Rally Australia, after a meeting with the world governing body of motorsport and other stakeholders.

Event chair Andrew Papadopoulos said the cancellation was the only course available, considering the safety of the more than 1000 people involved as officials, competitors and in support roles.

“Considering the best interests and safety of everyone involved in the rally, and of course the wider community, it is not appropriate to conduct the rally,” he said.

“Our thoughts are with the NSW community, especially the people who have lost loved ones, livelihoods and homes as a result of the fires in northern NSW, and we thank the Rally community for your support and understanding.”

Leading teams in the World Rally Championship are reportedly furious, however, that it took so long for the event to be cancelled, in the light of reports coming from the rally's host city of Coffs Harbour.

"This situation is more than crazy," a rallying source told UK site Autosport. "The smoke is everywhere. We are looking on maps and the fire is coming straight to Coffs Harbour and nobody can stand up and say the thing that everybody knows has to happen: Rally Australia is cancelled.

"We have been watching to the TV and we see fire and rescue crews so tired they can't stand up, but we are thinking to ask them to come and sit at the side of the road so we can have a rally.

"We have seen people's homes, farms, animals, everything is burning and we are talking about running some stupid stages for three days.

"This is a bad joke. Somebody needs to take control. F*** this meeting, f*** this time to make a decision.

"People are being advised to run away from these places - not advised, told to run away."

The cancellation comes despite a plan to reduce the competitive stages to just four, with two short special stages and one shortened stage run twice. This would have reduced the competitive kilometres run from 323km to just 95km, with only a third of the usual championship points on offer for the weekend.

The cancellation hands Hyundai the manufacturer's title, with Toyota now unable to score enough points to add the prize to its driver's championship title.

More: Rally Australia 2018 gallery

Tuesday was being touted as a day of extreme fire danger up and down the coastal fringe of NSW, and organisers have acknowledged the potential for danger to crews, volunteers and the public.

"Rally Australia’s thoughts are with the NSW community, especially the people who have lost loved ones, livelihoods and homes as a result of the fires in northern NSW," read a statement issued on Sunday. "Public safety is our uppermost consideration in planning for Rally Australia on the Coffs Coast next week.

"Rally Australia is consulting with emergency services, authorities and the local community about the evolving situation. We still hope to stage the final round of the 2019 FIA World Rally Championship, although it may be on a significantly shortened course."

The WRC driver's championship has already been decided in favour of Estonian driver Ott Tanak in a Toyota Yaris.

The bushfires that are wreaking havoc in the north of NSW have decimated the starting list for Rally Australia, which starts this week in the northern NSW town of Coffs Harbour, about six hours from Sydney.

Local competitors who entered the Australian Rally Championship (ARC) event were advised late Saturday that they were unable to compete, though the World Rally Championship part of the event was still on at that stage.

Read more: Calling rally notes with Subaru champion Molly Taylor

This dropped the Rally Australia field from 81 cars to approximately 22.

The fires have caused major disruptions for the rally organisers, with no access permitted to any forestry roads within the shire, while the Pacific Highway north of Coffs Harbour – the main access into the town – is also affected by the fires, which have claimed three lives in surrounding districts along with around 150 properties.

No photo description available.

A map of the affected areas, with a grim warning for worse to come

Forests are burning to the west of the town, while worse conditions are to come in the coming week, according to firefighting officials. NSW State Forest authorities have declared all forests in the north of the state to the Queensland border closed.

The event’s clerk of the course, Brian Everitt, said in a competitor bulletin on Satruday that the World Rally Championship event would continue, and that affected local competitors could claim back their entry fees under force majeure regulations.

More: Can a Hyundai WRC car go through a Macca's drive-through?

Crews also have the option of donating their entry fees to the bushfire effort.

“We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused to you and your team and we appreciate your understanding,” he said.

Some local crews, including 2019 champion-elect Harry Bates from Toyota, entered the World Rally Championship event, foregoing the right to earn points towards the local championship.

However, other prominent teams, including the Subaru Do squad of former ARC champion Molly Taylor, will not attend the event.

"With unprecedented bushfires affecting the area, the organisers made a decision to cancel the national portion of the event, the final round of the Australian Rally Championship," reads a team statement.

"The Subaru do Motorsport team’s thoughts are with all those affected by the bushfires and the tireless men and women of the Rural Fire Services."

The Subaru team's entry fee will be donated to the Coffs Coast Rural Fire Service.

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