A composed drive to fifth from Sébastien Ogier at Kennards Hire Rally Australia was in marked contrast to the heartbreak suffered by Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak, who both crashed whilst trying to keep their hopes alive.
Ogier’s calmness shone through after heavy rain transformed the gravel forest roads into a muddy mess. He was faultless while both Neuville and overnight leader Tänak escaped brushes with the scenery during the morning’s opening three speed tests.
Worse was to follow. Neuville parked his Hyundai i20 three stages from the finish after swiping a bank and ripping a rear wheel from his Hyundai i20. In the next test Tänak slithered into a tree and his Toyota Yaris ground to a halt with no drive.
Ogier, who has now won every title since 2013 and is just three behind compatriot Sébastien Loeb, could afford a celebratory drive through the final Power Stage in the knowledge the championship was already secured in his final appearance in M-Sport’s Ford Fiesta before switching to Citroën in 2019.
“It’s been an incredible season, so close. Not so long ago we were thinking it was going to be tough to grab this title but we never gave up. We gave everything, with a fantastic team behind us who kept fighting and in the end we grabbed it in the last rally. It’s so emotional,” said Ogier.
Tänak’s first trip into the trees handed the lead to team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala and the Estonian’s early exit confirmed a first victory since February 2017 for the Finn. It also preserved his record of winning a WRC round in every season since 2008.
His win also secured the manufacturers’ title for Toyota Gazoo Racing in its second season back in the WRC after a 17-year absence.
“It has been too long, almost two very long years. I was losing hope that I would win a rally but these tricky conditions went my way,” said Latvala, who triumphed by 32.5sec.
Hayden Paddon survived Sunday’s carnage to claim second in an i20, with first leg leader Mads Østberg filling the podium in a Citroën C3, despite hitting a tree and peeling the rear right door panel off his car. The Norwegian was a further 19.7sec back.
Esapekka Lappi finished fourth in another Yaris with Elfyn Evans filling the top six behind team-mate Ogier.