Ogier rules world rally for 6th year
Toyota claim 2018 constructors’ title in Australia
Dominant Frenchman Sebastien Ogier clinched his sixth world rally title on Sunday in a gripping final race of the year in Australia, denying Belgian Thierry Neuville and Estonia’s Ott Tanak maiden crowns.
In one of the closest seasons of recent times, the M-Sport Ford driver came to Coffs Harbour with a three-point cushion over Hyundai’s Neuville and 23 in front of Toyota ace Tanak.
All he needed to do was to stay ahead of the Belgian and in touch with Tanak over the three days of frantic driving along dusty and slippery roads.
The experienced campaigner and his co-driver Julien Ingrassia did just that, getting an early edge when Neuville lost 40 seconds on Day 1 after blowing a tire.
When Neuville swiped a bank and ripped a wheel from his car and Tanak clipped a tree, forcing their retirements as they took risks in a desperate bid to make up time on Sunday afternoon, the title was his before the rally finished.
Toyota (368 points) won the constructors’ championship ahead of Hyundai (341), M-Sport Ford (324) and Citroen (237).
Ogier admitted he drove some of the stages on Sunday “like my grandma would do,” knowing any mistakes could be costly at a race won by Finnish Toyota driver Jari-Matti Latvala, 32.5 seconds ahead of New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon in a Hyundai.
“It’s been an incredible season, so tough, and this is so emotional,” said the Frenchman, who finished fifth in Australia.
He has now won six titles in a row to move within three of the greatest driver ever, fellow Frenchman Sebastien Loeb, who claimed nine on the trot between 2004-12.
It was his last race for Ford ahead of a switch next year to Citroen on a two-year deal.
He was part of the Citroen team between 2008-11 before decamping to Volkswagen between 2013-16 when he won four world titles, and then MSport Ford where he won his fifth and sixth.
The rain that had been forecast for the region finally ar- rived early Sunday, leaving the forest roads treacherously slippery, as overnight leader Tanak found to his cost, sliding into the trees on Stage 2 of the day.
He lost 12 seconds with teammate Latvala taking the overall lead in a race that the Estonian had to not only win but also claim bonus points in the event-closing stage to have any hope of eclipsing Ogier.
The measured Frenchman was taking no risks, unlike Neuville who touched a bank while pushing hard and then had exhaust trouble in morning action.
Despite this, he managed to chip away at the lead, but it was ultimately futile.