Sebastien Ogier staged a late charge to take victory on Rally Australia and seal his third consecutive World Rally Championship title.
The 31-year old Frenchman now only ranks behind Tommi Makinen, Juha Kankkunen and Sebastien Loeb as the only drivers to take more than two WRC crowns.
Ogier’s win also gifted his Volkswagen team its third straight Manufacturers’ Championship title. Only Lancia, Subaru, Peugeot and Citroen have achieved the same feat.
Running first on the road through Friday and Saturday, sweeping the gravel roads clear, put Ogier at a disadvantage and it was Citroen’s Kris Meeke who held the upper hand for much of the first two days. The order chopped and changed on Friday’s early stages, but Meeke was able to take advantage of the better conditions afforded by his road position and eked out a relatively comfortable lead.
But the Volkswagens surged up the order on Saturday and Ogier took a slim lead on the closing night stage. A run of seven fastest times on Sunday ensured he took the win, with a 12.3-second buffer to teammate Jari-Matti Latvala. The Finn suffered a late scare when the alternator belt on his Polo R WRC broke during the penultimate stage, but he was carrying a spare.
Meeke had no reply to the VW’s pace and finished 32.6 seconds in arrears. It was, at least, his best result since winning in Argentina in April.
VW junior Andreas Mikkelsen had been in contention for the podium but a 10-second penalty for arriving at service late ended his chances. Hyundai’s Hayden Paddon was an impressive fifth in front of a huge crowd of fans who had made the trip over from New Zealand.
Ott Tanak briefly fought for the podium early on, but a number of incidents and transmission issues limited the M-Sport man to sixth. Dani Sordo held the lead for the first three stages put brake problems dropped him back to eighth, behind Hyundai team leader Thierry Neuville, who had an uneventful rally.
Elfyn Evans had a subdued event as he struggled to find confidence, finishing ninth. WRC2-class winner Nasser Al-Attiyah closed out the top ten.
Speaking to WRC.com after the Rally, Ogier said: “It’s an amazing season, the best I’ve ever done. No mistakes, so many great performances and this one is once again a very high one. It’s the most difficult rally to open the road and still we managed to win. It’s the perfect way to get my third title.”
The WRC returns to Europe for the next event, Rallye de France, based in Corsica for the first time since 2008. Though the champions have been declared, the other placings are still far from settled. There’s much to fight over in the remain three events.
Rally Australia top ten finishers after 17 stages
- Sebastien Ogier — Volkswagen Motorsport/Volkswagen Polo R WRC — 2:59:16.4
- Jari-Matti Latvala — Volkswagen Motorsport/Volkswagen Polo R WRC — +12.3
- Kris Meeke — Citroen Total Abu Dhabi ART/DS 3 WRC — +32.6
- Andreas Mikkelsen — Volkswagen Motorsport II/Volkswagen Polo R WRC — +38.5
- Hayden Paddon — Hyundai Motorsport/Hyundai i20 WRC — +55.0
- Ott Tanak — M-Sport WRT/Ford Fiesta RS WRC — +1:38.0
- Thierry Neuville — Hyundai Motorsport/Hyundai i20 WRC — +2:08.3
- Dani Sordo — Hyundai Motorsport N/Hyundai i20 WRC — +2:15.2
- Elfyn Evans — M-Sport WRT/Ford Fiesta RS WRC — +4:33.7
- Nasser Al-Attiyah — N. Al-Attiyah/Ford Fiesta RRC — +11:46.5
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By Only Motors