The ongoing bushfire crisis in New South Wales has seen a strong response by World Rally Championship stars and teams after the season finale was cancelled.
Rally Australia, the final event of the 2019 championship, was cancelled in the wake of the devastating fires which continue to ravage parts of the state.
Particularly affected is the local Coffs Harbour community, which was host to the service park of the event. Instead, Thursday – which was scheduled for the rally’s shakedown – has seen the service park dismantled and packed away as teams prepared to head back to Europe after the non-event.
However, drivers and teams – despite coming all the way out to Australia, only to see the event cancelled – have lent a helping hand to those affected by the fires.
Several have visited local areas, with many meeting local fans at a signing session in Coffs Harbour on Wednesday before heading to a Red Cross Evacuation Centre.
There, they distributed food to locals which would have been consumed by teams over the rally’s duration. It’s also believed the majority of refunded entry fees have been donated to the Rural Fire Service.
“Since they arrived in Australia, the crews have been very aware of this situation and the position the local people have been put in by the fires.
“They wanted to give something back to a community which has always welcomed them, the rally and the championship.”
Several high-profile drivers – including new world champion Ott Tänak – paid tribute to those fighting the disaster, some posting images of their efforts to meet locals and do their bit in a time of need. Six-time world champion Sebastian Ogier also donated to the bushfire appeal.
Tänak was particularly affected by the crisis, opening up on his father’s experience as a firefighter as a reason behind his personal donation to the RFS: “As my father is a firefighter, I know how dangerous and difficult their job is. I would like to send my deepest respect to the firefighters and volunteers who are protecting and keeping us safe!
“That’s why I decided to make a donation for the NSW Rural Fire Service. I hope this catastrophe will end soon! In the meantime I would like to encourage everybody who wants to make a donation to support them!”
Toyota Gazoo Racing team principal and four-time world champion Tommi Mäkinen said: “To cancel the rally was absolutely the correct decision and one that we support entirely. Of course, the team originally came to Australia to try and fight for a championship, but in these terrible circumstances we have not been thinking about that at all. Our thoughts have only been with the people that have been affected by what has happened: This is far more important than any rally, so we really did not wish for it to go ahead.
“We want to help the situation in whatever way we can, and hope that people’s lives can return to some level of normality as soon as possible.”
Toyota driver Kris Meeke added: “Fire is an element that we don’t really have so much of in Europe. Here it is quite common but not on this scale … hopefully they can keep it under control but until there is a decent amount of rainfall then I don’t think the threat will go away.”