Prokop powers to P-WRC victory on Repco Rally Australia
Araujo is provisional champion, subject to the outcome of an appeal lodged by Barwa Rally Team against Nasser Al-Attiyah’s exclusion from the results of the Acropolis Rally of Greece

Four different drivers led the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship category on the Repco Rally Australia, but in the end Martin Prokop (CZ, Mitsubishi) showed his class by recovering from an early 20 second time loss, taking the lead half way through the 35 stage event and gradually increasing his advantage to score his first P-WRC win of the season by 42.2 seconds. The win caps off a remarkable four weeks in the career of the 26-year old Czech driver, after he was crowned FIA Junior World Rally Champion (subject to the publication of the results by the FIA) last month.

The provisional championship standings are now subject to the outcome of an appeal by the Barwa Rally Team regarding the exclusion of Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT, Subaru) from the results of the Acropolis Rally of Greece. If the International Court of Appeal overturns the exclusion of Al-Attiyah as the runner-up in Greece, then it will put the title rivals, Al-Attiyah and Armindo Araújo (P, Mitsubishi), almost level on points again. With Araújo now having scored his maximum six results, Al-Attiyah will need to score only point from the final round in Rally GB to become champion.

Despite his winning effort in Australia, Prokop can no longer win the P-WRC title, after amazing drama on the final stage saw 4th placed Toshi Arai (J, Subaru) stop with a broken input shaft. His retirement elevated Araújo up to 4th – significantly scoring the five points he needs to take a provisional 11 point lead in the P-WRC standings.

Co-driven by Jan Tomanek, Prokop took the lead with fastest time on SS4, but the new J-WRC Champion clobbered a rock mid-way through SS8 and damaged the intercooler. He had to continue with reduced power, arriving in service after SS9 having lost 20 seconds and dropping to 5th. After his JipoCar Team repaired the damage, the talented driver from Jihlava worked his way back up to 2nd by the end of Day 1, just 15.3 seconds behind Richard Mason (NZ, Subaru). His planned attack over the faster stages of Day 2 saw him set fastest time on the slippery and wet opening three stages to take a 6.7 second lead. A harder suspension set-up for a repeat of the stages in the afternoon saw Prokop attack the now drier tests, completing them significantly quicker than he had in the morning- leading to a few big moments which had him slide perilously close, and sometimes beyond, the edge of the road. Of the chasing pack, only Mason was able to respond to the pace, and Prokop’s lead at the end of Day 2 was just 18.3 seconds.

Mason had a controlled start to the event, running as low as 8th at one point as he explored the grip levels of the Pirelli tyres used in the WRC, which were new to him. Having quietly monitored the pace of the leaders, the 31-year old from Masterton was running nicely in 6th after six stages before two stunning stage times shot him into 3rd position. He took the lead with fastest time on SS9, and a hat-trick of stage wins gave him a 15.3 second lead by the end of Day 1. The double New Zealand Rally Champion was a little too cautious at the start of Day 2, and after two stages he had lost the lead to Prokop. The faster stages did not suit him as much, but a better run in the afternoon kept him within striking distance of Prokop, with the longest day of the rally in terms of stage mileage remaining. It had still been a remarkable performance, particularly considering Mason’s co-driver, his wife Sara, had picked up a stomach bug overnight and had been feeling extremely unwell all day. He began the final day 15 seconds behind Prokop, but when the gap doubled in two stages, Richard decided not too take huge risks and settled for a superb 2nd.

Having won the Malaysian Rally just three weeks before, the three times FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Champion and current series leader Cody Crocker (AUS, Subaru) arrived in the New South Wales Northern Rivers region of the east-coast of Australia on great form. However, the 37-year old from Victoria initially found that the rear of his Impreza was sliding too much and was only able to get into a rhythm once adjustments had been made, allowing him to gain some pace and finish Day 1 in 4th, just 0.2 seconds behind 2nd. Day 2 was to prove a little frustrating, as Crocker felt he was driving quicker than his stage times suggested. Softer suspension and an extra hard push in the afternoon failed to make a difference, and whilst Crocker was losing touch a little with the top two drivers, he was in an extremely strong 3rd position. He tried to put Mason under pressure with a big push on the opening stages of Day 3, but the gap was too big and Crocker was still delighted with 3rd place.

Toshi Arai (J, Subaru) had a new Impreza for this rally, and spent much of the opening day fine-tuning the handling to his liking. The double P-WRC champion hit a rock near the end of SS7, bending the front right suspension arm and collecting a slow rear puncture. Indeed, the most experienced driver in the series looked a little out of sorts – ending Day 1 over a minute behind the leader. It took Toshi until mid-way through Day 2 to get back to his hard-charging best, and after finding a set-up which worked he ended the middle day in 4th. A close encounter with a tree on SS28 almost brought Day 3 to a premature end, but he recovered and was on course to finish 4th, when an input shaft stranded him on the final stage – cruelly just 2km from the finish of the rally.

Arai’s dramatic SS35 retirement saw all the crews behind him unexpectedly move up a place, and this could determine who will be this year’s P-WRC champion.

Armindo Araújo (P, Mitsubishi) arrived in Australia leading the P-WRC, celebrated his 32nd birthday on September 1st and took the early lead with fastest times on SS1 and 2. However, when he got into the forest, the man from Santo Tirso discovered his Lancer was set too low and he smashed the exhaust after a heavy landing on SS4 and slipped to 5th. That incident seemed to change Araújo’s fortunes, and his tactical switch to contest Rally Australia instead of Rally GB – and maximise his points-scoring opportunity when his nearest P-WRC rival, Al-Attiyah, wasn’t in Australia – turned from a brilliant to a near-disastrous idea. Araújo complained of a lack of traction in the afternoon of Day 1, finding that his Lancer oversteered so much that he lost 20 seconds with a half spin on SS9. Aiming for a P-WRC win, Araújo completed Day 1 in a disappointing 5th, 36.4 adrift of the leader. A new dawn brought fresh concerns, as a lack of power on the fast stages saw no improvement in position. Indeed, Araújo was lucky to still be running, after he rolled his Ralliart Italy-prepared Evo IX on SS18. He lost just 10 seconds during the quick flip and a similar amount of time as he struggled to concentrate for the rest of the stage, yet his car sustained little more than light dents and scratches. Unable to catch Arai, a despondent Araújo could see his title aspirations slip away, before he passed his rival’s parked Subaru on the final stage. Overcome by an emotional release of relief at the end of the final stage, Araújo knew he’d been thrown a most unlikely, and extremely last minute, championship lifeline.

Stewart Taylor (NZ, Mitsubishi) returned to competition on Rally Australia having been sidelined for several months after snapping his Archilles’ tendon playing indoor cricket. He was soon displaying the form which took him to 4th in last year's New Zealand Rally Championship, despite arriving backwards onto a wooden bridge on SS22, after spinning at the approaching left hand corner! The Hawkes Bay pilot had a lucky escape when he had a “high speed excursion into a grassy area” on SS30 and was pleased to come home in 5th.

Gianluca Linari (I, Subaru) hopes of a trouble-free run lasted just 100 metres, after which his Impreza picked up an electronic throttle problem on Thursday night’s curtain-raising Tweed 1 super-special in Murwillumbah, losing a minute on the 2.55km stage. He enjoyed a good run on Friday, successfully shaking off the cobwebs having not driven a rally car since the Acropolis Rally of Greece 12 weeks before. Throttle problems continued to crop up intermittently during Day 2 and 3, but his persistence was rewarded with three P-WRC points for finishing 6th.

Four times Australian Rally Champion Neil Bates (AUS, Toyota) gave the new Super 2000 Auris its world debut and he made a good start to his home WRC event, but dropped down the order when a 10 second penalty for a jump start on SS12 relegated him to 6th. The 44-year old driver from Canberra was back up to 5th when he misjudged a fast corner over a crest on SS18 and spun. Unluckily for Bates, a branch lying on the side of the road punctured the radiator, and whilst he completed the stage without losing position, the damaged cooling system sidelined him for the rest of the day. Having collected 35 minutes of penalties for missing seven stages, Bates restarted on Day 3 – but mid-way through the final day he was forced to retire from only his second rally in three years when he went over the time limit trying to repair a broken fitting on an oil line.

Having scored his first points-scoring finish of the season last time out in Greece, Bernardo Sousa (P, Abarth) began Rally Australia with great confidence. He took the lead for one stage after SS3 and set two fastest times on Day 1 to maintain his challenge for victory, despite clutch problems and hitting a rock on SS8 and bending the right front suspension arm. The 22-year old driver from Funchal in Madeira made a mistake on the super-special stage that brought Day 1 to a close, entering a left hand corner too fast, hitting a bank and spinning his Grande Punto. So close was the battle for P-WRC honours that this little mistake cost him a place, as he ended the opening day in 3rd. Sousa feared that Day 2’s faster stages would not suit the shorter gearing of his S2000 car, and mistakes crept in as he tried to overcompensate.

He overshot two junctions on the day’s opening stage and arrived at the start of SS17 two minutes late (picking up a 20 second penalty) after stopping on the road section to make emergency repairs to the front left bodywork. After spinning on SS17, Sousa was holding 4th when his rally came to a dramatic end when he crashed on SS20, leaving his Abarth too damaged to continue.

Mark Tapper (NZ, Mitsubishi) set his first P-WRC fastest stage time of his career on SS3 to move up to 3rd, but then rolled heavily two stages later.

Eyvind Brynildsen (N, Mitsubishi) stole the local pre-event media headlines when he went surfing with former ironman world champion Dwayne Thuys near Salt Village. Being on a crest of a wave didn’t continue when the rally started, as his hopes of winning this year’s P-WRC sank with rally-ending transmission problems on SS7.

Double Chinese Rally Champion Chao-dong Liu (CN, Mitsubishi) crashed his Lancer Evo IX on SS7 on the second P-WRC event of his career, ending his hopes of winning the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship Pirelli Star Driver Shoot Out. It also ended his weekend’s sport, as the impact with a tree bent the roll cage and he was unable to continue.

1st – Martin Prokop, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX:
“I am really happy to win the P-WRC category in Australia, especially after losing twenty seconds on Friday and having to fight back. It’s been a great rally and I’ve really enjoyed it. I felt very confident coming here after winning the Junior World Rally title in Finland, and that confidence gave me the speed I needed in Australia to win.”

2nd – Richard Mason, Subaru Impreza:
“Second is a pretty good result for us, especially as the only person in front is a world champion! I’ve really enjoyed competing in the P-WRC and I’ll be going back to Rally New Zealand next year, you can count on that. I’d also like to try and come across to Europe and do some new rallies too.”

3rd – Cody Crocker, Subaru Impreza:
“This has been a dream come true. Our target this year was to compete on Rally Australia and we’re really wrapped with the result. Doing the P-WRC is a goal of mine and I will definitely be back next year – doing some rallies, but hopefully the whole championship.”

4th – Armindo Araújo, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX:
“It was a very tough rally for us and full of problems. I tried my best on Friday and Saturday but I just couldn't keep the rhythm of the guys in front. Then Toshi caught us yesterday evening and after the first stage on Day 3 I knew that I couldn't catch him. In my head I was already thinking what would happen after this rally, but then two kilometres before the end of the last stage I saw Toshi stopped by the side of the road. Now we are provisional champions* and we have just to wait for the result of the appeal and see what happens.”

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