Recce Updates McKleins Rally Tips have now been updated after our rally recce. You will be able to find the latest insights highlighted, to give you the most up-to-date overview for this rally.
Sun, surf, kangaroos and flat-out action, thats the appeal of Rally Australia. The Coffs Coast in New South Wales is the perfect location to round off a long demanding WRC season and this rally has established itself as a popular one for those that make the trek Down-Under. The base for the rally is the small tourist town of Coffs Harbour, where lush green rainforest escarpments meet the Pacific Ocean and its mile-after-mile of golden sandy beaches. This really is a stunning landscape. Rally time is springtime in Australia, which usually means warm sunny days with cooler mild evenings.
The rally stages are notoriously dusty, but handily located only a short distance north and south of Coffs, making this one of the most compact rallies in the championship. You just need to get an internal connecting flight straight in to Coffs Harbour from any of the major Australian airports (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, etc.) and pick up a rental car at the airport. It is possible to drive from Brisbane or Sydney, but it will take many hours and theres not much of interest to see on the long drive.
Being a tourist destination there is loads of accommodation options in and around Coffs Harbour. Theres everything to suit every budget, from five star beach resorts to humble, but clean B&Bs. Likewise there a massive choice for eating out in town. During the rally week many people head for the Coffs jetty area, where the yacht club is a popular venue. Theres also a cluster of restaurants, offering a choice of different world cuisines alongside Harbour Drive Road, which is the approach road to the jetty. Most restaurants have an outdoor terrace, and the evening temperatures are perfect for a bit of al-fresco dining.
One thing you must do if you visit Coffs is to go and see the wild kangaroos that live on the headland at Emerald Beach, which is only a 20-minute drive north of the town. The best time to go is at sunrise and the following hour, when you will see many of the kangaroos basking at first light. If youve never seen these indigenous animals before, its something magical.
Shakedown: Clocaenog, 5.02km
This shakedown test, located 30km northwest of the service park, might not be imaginatively named, but it does have some super action and is representative of what to expect on the following rally days. The best spectating spot is truly spectacular, coming at km 4. It is a high-speed, downhill jump, which throws some cars up in awkward angles, depending on how hard the drivers attack it. There is decent access from the only spectator car park, walking directly uphill (opposite direction to the stage) on marked footpaths for about 600 metres.
Alternatively there is a very dramatic left hand junction at km 4.5, which you can practically see from the car park. It gets quite dusty here.
SS1/4: Pilabra, 9.71km
From the start to km 3.5 is all brand new stage, running from west to east. At km 3.5 it joins on to a road that was used in the past for the rally Shakedown. Just north from where the cars turn off the Central Bucca Road to the stage start is Mardells Road. Take this road and you will have great access to the stage at about km 1.6. From here if you walk back towards the stage start you have two deep water-crossings, before an excellent series of flowing corners. There is an official spectator point from km 2.1 – 2.4, which will have live commentary, toilet facilities and maybe some catering facilities. The last metres of the spectator point features a very small water crossing where the stage crosses a little creek.
After km 2.4 there is very little worth seeing because the stage is all within deep forest and the only recommendation would be to walk in from the main junction. You could go in either direction, just to find a corner you like. The advantage of this point is that it is the closest piece of forest action to Coffs Harbour.
SS2/5: East Bank, 18.92km
East Bank combines sections of roads that have used in previous years, with most of the stage in heavy forest plantations. The locations we recommend are pretty much the only places you can access, the first is at km 8.8. This is a typical wide hairpin junction, which has good access coming from the northeast on the appropriately named McRaes Road, which you can find off the asphalt Bucca road. Similarly, another mile into the stage [km 10.4] is another, very similar, right-hand hairpin. This one however is much tighter and slower. Beyond these two junctions, there really isnt much to recommend in this stage.
SS3/6: Sherwood, 26.59km
Again this is another new stage for 2017. The first part of the stage passes through the picturesque Athol Glen valley, however it is in thick forest with little to see. The road surface here is very dusty, with an amazing reddish [high mineral content to it] colour to it. At km 9.8 you have access to a very typical Rally Australia forest corner, its a fast left-hander with a high banking on both the inside and the outside. A further 700m on is a very fast jump in the forest on a long straight. Please, if you go here, stand well beck in the safety of the trees.
SS7/8/15/16: Destination NSW SSS, 1.27km
As far as Superspecial stages go, this one is an absolute cracker. Its held on the famous Coffs Harbour jetty area of town, predominantly on asphalt, but it also features a sandy/gravel section close to the beachfront. You must park in the main car parks and walk to the stage, crossing a temporary footbridge over the course.
Once you are on the infield you should find a spot on the steep-sloped grass banking, here you will see most of this short stage. The highlights include, a steep banked berm, turning the cars through 90° in front of the harbour, a 360° donut turn which the drivers negotiate twice and a jump on the gravel alongside the beach. It really does cram a lot into 1.27km.
SS9: Nambucca17, 48.89km
Nambucca is one of the long-term established tests of Rally Australia and for 2017 it follows more-or-less the same configuration as in 2016. The stage is run quite early in the morning, if theres little wind then hanging dust in the forest sections will be a big problem. There are plenty of spectating options in this long stage, the first coming at km 10.3. This is the access from the southernmost point where the stage joins Talarm road. The junction itself is nothing special, just a right hand corner, however if you continue walking for over a kilometre you will find yourself in completely open scenery with longs views of the cars at high speed.
At roughly half distance, there is good access using South Arm Road from the village of Bowraville. If you walk uphill from the junction (which is on asphalt) in the stage direction you will soon arrive at an interesting long right hand corner, which is completely open and mega fast. Keep going for another 700m and you will get a very narrow wooden bridge, raised on stilts over a creek. This is a very photogenic spot, good for fast action and it makes for a very typical Australian scene.
The final point worth recommending comes at km 34.8. This is steep downhill approach into a fairly tight left hand junction. This corner gets very, very dusty indeed. The access is direct to the junction, using Lower Buckrabendinni Road, direct from Bowraville.
SS10/14: Newry17, 20.86km
This is another established Rally Australia stage that has been used many times, in many different configurations. It can be extremely dusty within the Newry forest, so much so that it was dramatically shortened in 2016 to avoid the problem areas. One must be aware, depending on the weather conditions, the stage could well be shortened again.
Despite Newry being a long stage, there really is very little usable access into it. The best place to head to is the only designated spectator point which is a fast long right-hand junction located at km 16.9. The access is very close to the main Pacific Highway, using Martells Road.
SS11: Raceway SSS, 1.37km
Compared to the Coffs Harbour Superspecial stage, this Raceway SSS is quite poor and doesnt have either the atmosphere of Coffs, nor the terrain of the forest stages. Its basically a lap of a small race circuit, pretty much all on asphalt. One really good thing about the stage is the easy and access and once you are there you can watch the entire stage from the grass banks on the exterior. Its all in view.
SS12: Welshs Creek, 33.49km
Welshs Creek uses the same start and first 33.49km of the Nambucca stage.
SS13: Argents Hill (Live TV), 12.33km
The reason for splitting the Nambucca stage is to run the last12km [Argents Hill] as a live TV stage. There is one decent possibility for spectating on this stage. Head north past the stage finish on Graces Road North turning on to Dyers Loop road. When this road reaches the stage just walk-in [towards the start] for 300m and you will see two fast-flowing open downhill corners.
Food and drink:
South of Coffs Harbour you do have some fun options. The quaint, traditional old village of Bowraville has several cafés, a couple of pubs and some small shops. Often the village will put on a street party for the rally, with some live music entertainment. Alternatively head to the coast town of Nambucca Heads where you will find everything, including the usual fast-food outlets.
SS17/20: Pilbara Reverse, 10.03km
This is the same stage as SS1 (Pilabra) just run in the opposite direction and, unsurprisingly the places we would recommend are exactly the same as on Friday.
SS18: Bucca16, 31.90km
You have two distinct options here, both with very easy access. The first access road comes in at km 2.9; its the junction of Coramba Road and Taylors Creek Road, which is a left-hand corner on asphalt. If you walk from here back into the stage for 1km you reach a fascinating place where the cars fly downhill over a narrow wooden bridge, straight into a fast right hand corner where they join a wider road. This is all on gravel.
The second point of note is at km 13.9. The access here is via McRaes Road off the main Bucca Road. At this junction you will hear the rally cars burst out of the forest as they slide out of a left-hand corner and continue right in front of you.
SS19 & 21 (Power Stage): Wedding Bells, 6.44km
Wedding Bells is a great spectator stage and very suitable as the final live TV Powerstage. There are two good places to watch, all within easy walking distance of the spectator car park.
The first point is right next to the car park and its part of the so-called Rally Village area. Its a deep watersplash, just before a right-hand junction (km 4.3). There are plenty of good places to stand and there are also several catering outlets selling good quality burgers and hot dogs – its a good choice for spectators.
400m further on is the big-jump used on the Shakedown stage, only now it is in the opposite direction and slightly uphill.
You are also not far away form the Powerstage finish and could opt to go and watch the winners celebrations at the stage end.