Rally Australia cancelled because of raging bushfires

Coffs Harbour (Australia) (AFP) –


Organisers Tuesday cancelled this week's Rally Australia, the final round of the 2019 FIA World Rally Championship, because of bushfires raging near the Coffs Harbour venue in New South Wales.

The event had been scheduled to begin Thursday and had already been scaled back as Australia struggles to control the blazes that have killed three people.

"Considering the best interests and safety of everyone involved in the rally, and of course the wider community, it is not appropriate to conduct the rally," event chairman Andrew Papadopoulos said in a statement.

"Our thoughts are with the NSW community, especially the people who have lost loved ones, livelihoods and homes."

Estonia's Ott Tanak wrapped up his first World Rally title when he finished second to Thierry Neuville in the rally of Catalonia just over two weeks ago.

Tanak, who drives for Toyota but will switch to Hyundai next season, now finishes the season 36 points ahead of Belgian Thierry Neuville.

Tanak is the first non-Frenchman to win the title since Norwegian Petter Solberg in 2003. Sebastien Loeb won it nine years straight with Sebastien Ogier winning the last six.

Hyundai will win the manufacturers crown by virtue of being 18 points ahead of Toyota going into the now-cancelled Australian race.

The cancellation announcement came after growing tension among drivers and crews who feared if the rally went ahead it would be in impossible conditions.

With ash and thick smoke in the air, the teams had been told to vacate the service area and return to their hotels.

Hyundai Motorsport said in a statement it had been "saddened" to witness the devastating bushfires and "we trust that this decision, taken by the organisers and the authorities, is the correct one and considers the best interests and safety of everyone involved in the rally, and the wider community.

"First and foremost, our thoughts and best wishes are with local firefighters, residents and officials who are affected by this critical situation."

Toyota Gazoo Racing said the cancellation "was the only right thing to do as our thoughts are with all those affected, their loved ones and people of NSW impacted by the devastating bushfires.

"We'd like to send our deepest respect to the firefighters protecting and keeping us safe!" Toyota tweeted.

Dozens of bushfires were burning out of control in New South Wales as temperatures approached 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) with winds forecast to top 60 kilometres (40 miles) per hour.