Frenchman Sébastien Ogier (M-Sport Ford) claimed his sixth consecutive world rally title by using his experience to defeat his rivals, Belgian Thierry Neuville and Estonian Ott Tänak, in a Rally Australia won by Finn Jari- Matti Latvala.
With his six crowns, Ogier is the second most successful driver in the history of the WRC and French motorsport, behind the nine winches of his compatriot Sébastien Loeb.
“I am so proud of my team, they are the best,” declared the Frenchman, excited. “We have fought to the end and we never give up,” stressed Ogier, who eventually managed to beat Neuville and Tänak.
“The season was so intense, and in the end everything was decided in two specials, I have mixed feelings,” admitted the pilot, who dedicated his victory to his wife, the German television presenter Andrea Kaiser.
The outcome of one of the most exciting seasons in fifteen years was expected by many during the 24th and final stage (SS24) of Rally Australia.
But the fight for the drivers’ title ended just before this “Power Stage” and its bonus points.
Belgian Neuville (Hyundai) dropped out on SS22 with a ripped wheel off the line and Estonian Tänak (Toyota) had to give up on the next stage after damaging his transmission after a collision with a tree.
Ogier, who regained his position as championship leader from his 2nd position in Catalonia, behind Loeb, three weeks ago, was ranked 6th in Australia before Tänak left, a position that would have allowed him to clinch the title even though the Estonian I would have beaten him.
Since Saturday, Ogier has driven without risking too much. “I piloted like my grandmother would have,” he joked after Neuville’s retirement.
“We gave it our all and we took the risk to get the title,” explained Neuville, very disappointed to have finished, for the fourth time, behind Ogier in the general classification.
– New stage at Citroën –
The rain complicated this final day of the Australian rally, with the New South Wales dirt turning into a muddy mass in places.
Ogier, 34, and his co-driver, Julien Ingrassia, 38, clinched their second title with M-Sport Ford, the team led by Britain’s Malcolm Wilson, after four victories with Volkswagen between 2013 and 2016.
The French duo will join the Citroën team next year, having left it in 2011 due to the difficult coexistence between Ogier and Loeb.
“This brings a lot of excitement to the whole team,” Wilson said, crying.
“To see them triumph and return to the top is something incredible, while they were only third in the general classification after Rally Turkey” in mid-September, stressed the ex-driver.
Ogier sensed after his triumph in the Monte Carlo Rally in January that “consistency” would be decisive in taking the title this year.
The Frenchman won three of the first four races of the season but then struggled in the next six rallies.
His triumph at the Rally Great Britain in early October (just after the Turkish test), despite the fact that his car was not really ready, fully reactivated him.
Finn Jari-Matti Latvala (Toyota) won his 18th WRC victory this Sunday in Australia, beating New Zealander Hayden Paddon (Hyundai) and Norwegian Mads Ostberg (Citroën).
With this, Latvala awards Toyota its fourth constructors’ title, after the house returned to the WRC in 2017 after an 18-year absence. AFP