Finland’s Mikko Hirvonen has won the latest round of the World Rally Championship in Australia, extending his lead in the title race.
French driver Sebastian Loeb originally took the honours in one of the closest rallies of the season so far, though he was later penalised by race stewards who deemed that his Citroen team had utilised parts of the front suspension which did not comply with race regulations. After the imposition of a one minute penalty, Loeb was relegated to second and Ford driver Hirvonen awarded the victory. Spanish driver Dani Sordo was third.
The victory saw Hirvonen extend the gap at the top of the drivers’ championship to five points, rather than the initial one point gap which was temporarily in place after Loeb claimed first place. It took race officials more than six hours to overturn the result. There was no appeal by Citroen on the decision.
The Repco Rally of Australia had been mired in controversy before racing even began, with environmental protesters threatening to disrupt the event by throwing frozen Koala bears onto the track. During time trials, members of the No Rally Group placed boulders onto the race track and even threw rocks at competitors as they drove past. One man was arrested for painting anti-race slogans along the length of the course.
The area in which the race was held, known as the Tweed Valley on the eastern state of Queensland’s gold coast, is famous for its biodiversity. The announcement that a new 20-year deal to keep the race at the site was met with outrage by locals who claimed that the lives and breeding patterns of several plant and animal species are endangered by the event.