Environmental activists yesterday lived up to their pre-event threats, as a series of protests severely disrupted Rally Australia. Two stages - running through the renowned hippy area of Byrill Creek - were cancelled and violent attacks on drivers led to numerous arrests. While the organisers remained tight-lipped, a New South Wales Police Force statement confirmed local officers removed several boulders on the sixth stage at 10 am.
Protesters later upped the ante. "The first rally car to drive along the Byrill Creek stage was hit by a number of rocks, and the stage, as well as its afternoon re-run, was called off "due to concerns for safety," said the statement. The protestors claimed the rally, being held for the first time in Kingsville, was a threat to the flora and wildlife but the protests severely endangered the lives of the drivers.
The BP Ford Abu Dhabi driver Mikko Hirvonen's position as championship leader meant he was the first driver on the road, although the Finn refused to confirm the incident. "I didn't see anyone throwing stones," he said. "The protesters made a fence over the road but I just went straight through it. It was a kind of plastic, rubbery fence, not hard when I hit it, and I just went on through. "Later on they showed the yellow flag and the stage was cancelled. In the following road section there were six cars and they were blocking the road, they didn't let us pass so we had to wait there."
Anti-rally slogans were painted on roads. Toshihiro Arai's Subaru - with the Japanese driver reportedly inside - was vandalised by golf club wielding anti-rallyites, and 'go home WRC' placards littering the routes. Hirvonen urged protesters to think again. "It's a shame, but I didn't bring the rally here, so it's not my fight," he said. More protests are planned for today and tomorrow. firstname.lastname@example.org