Forty-five cars in the hands of many of the world's best drivers will start the inaugural Repco Rally Australia next month - and the field includes a strong line-up of Australians determined to prove their speed in the sport's ultimate arena.
Five-time World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb, driving for Citroen, and Ford's current championship leader Mikko Hirvonen top the list of 27 international entries, while the 18 Australian-based entries include multiple national champions Neal Bates and Cody Crocker In all, the drivers will represent 16 countries and drive seven different brands of car.
Rally Australia chairman Alan Evans said the entry list confirmed the New South Wales Northern Rivers would host a truly world-class sporting spectacle on 3-6 September.
“Repco Rally Australia is going to showcase the world's best rally drivers and cars and the magnificent natural beauty and attractions of the Tweed and Kyogle shires,” Mr Evans said.
“It will be an unforgettable experience for spectators and a major boost for the local economy, which has never experienced an event of this significance. Tens of millions of people around the world will follow it on nightly television.”
After nine rounds of the 2009 FIA World Rally Championship, Finnish star Hirvonen holds the lead in the drivers' standings by just three points from Loeb. A good result in Australia will be critical to both, with only two rounds to follow to the conclusion of the championship.
Meanwhile Bates' last-minute entry in a Toyota Australia-backed Corolla S2000 promises to be a highlight for local fans.
Developed by his Canberra-based team, the all-wheel drive Corolla won the 2007 and 2008 Australian Rally Championships, but has only just received technical approval (homologation) to compete at international level.
Bates, a four-time Australian champion with co-driver Coral Taylor, has been given a wildcard entry by the rally organisers, allowing him to score points in the Production World Rally Championship. He hopes a strong performance will result in international sales for his unique Toyota.
The team will run a second, identical car for Queensland-based Briton Stewart Reid.
A second P-WRC wildcard has been given to Crocker, Australia's most successful current driver, who has won three straight Australian Championships followed by three FIA Asia Pacfic Rally Championships in Subaru Imprezas.
Other Australians will be competing as privateers, in the Production World Rally Championship, in the Pirelli Star Driver shootout and in the National Division for Australian-specification cars.
The nine manufacturer drivers at the head of the Repco Rally Australia field are, Loeb and Dani Sordo (Citroen Total World Rally Team), Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala (BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team), Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg (Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team), Conrad Rautenbach and Sebastien Ogier (Citroen Junior Team) and Federico Villagra (Munchi's Ford World Rally Team).