By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Hyundai were confirmed winners of the World Rally Championship’s manufacturers’ title after the season-ending Rally of Australia was canceled on Tuesday due to the threat of bushfires.
Organizers had planned to run the Nov. 14-17 event at Coffs Harbour in eastern New South Wales state with a dramatically shorter route but decided the risks were too high for the more than 1,000 officials, competitors and support personnel.
“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,” Rally of Australia 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 as a result of the fires in northern NSW, and we thank the rally community for your support and understanding.”
Hyundai, who held an 18-point lead over defending champions Toyota after the penultimate round in Spain, claim their first manufacturers’ title in the global series.
“First of all our thoughts are with all those affected by the devastating bushfires in the New South Wales region of Australia and elsewhere,” Scott Noh, President of Hyundai Motorsport, said.
“We are immensely proud to secure our first ever … manufacturers’ title after a highly competitive season against tough opposition.
“We hope, too, that it will be the first of many more to come in the future.”
Toyota’s Estonian driver Ott Tanak was already sure of the drivers’ championship.
Bushfires are a common and deadly threat in Australia’s hot, dry summers, but the current severe outbreak – across several parts of NSW and Queensland states, as well as Sydney – weeks before the summer peak, has caught many by surprise.
Australian officials warned soaring heat and high winds are already exceeding forecast “catastrophic” conditions on Tuesday as millions of people across the country’s east coast braced for the worst bushfires in at least a decade.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Muralikumar Anantharaman)