Australia debrief: Part One
WRC Gala Awards complete, we rewind to last weekend's Kennards Hire Rally Australia to consider the key moments and performances from the season finale.
Driver of rally: Thierry Neuville
Hats off to Neuville for a well deserved fourth victory this year in some extremely challenging conditions. The Belgian kept his nose clean for the opening stages, and by Stage 9 his biggest worry was a bit of excess perspiration.
He survived a couple of issues on Stage 10, where he knocked a tyre off a rim, and Stage 11, where he lost first gear, but his lead looked a lot more secure after he was quickest by 9.8sec on SS12.
When the top thee bunched together on Sunday morning, he delivered a knockout time on Stage 19 that was enough to keep his rivals at bay. Watch our Neuville video below to see how he did it.
One to forget: Andreas Mikkelsen
New boy Mikkelsen's sparkling form at Hyundai continued in Australia, and by Stage 9 he was in front with a good lead of 15sec. Appearing calm and confident in his new Hyundai [above], Mikkelsen seemed well on course for a second consecutive Australia win until he got caught out in Stage 10.
The Norwegian wasn't the first to make a mistake in the slippery Newry test, but he came off the worst when he tried to take a corner too quickly, hit a bank and punctured two tyres. Back the next day under Rally 2, he went on to finish in 13th place and ready to start a clean sheet at January's Rallye Monte-Carlo.
Surprise of the Rally: Jari-Matti Latvala
After Kris Meeke's detour through a car park in Mexico, we should be used to surprises on the Power Stage. But Latvala's 11th hour exit in Australia still had us shaking our heads in disbelief.
And it wasn't just us. The live TV coverage from the Power Stage enabled us to track the shockwave as it spread from the Wedding Bells stage right around the WRC set-up in Coffs Harbour.
Helicam footage showed a desperate Jari-Matti pacing around his stricken car, while a group of his rivals at stage end were filmed trying to make sense of what they were watching on the big screen. Cut to shots of stunned faces in Latvala's Toyota team and this was a prime example of bad news travelling extremely fast.
Quote of the rally: Craig Breen
Considering he has given us some gold standard quotes all season, it's fitting that Craig [below] should be our nominee for the final round.
What makes this one so special is not so much the quote, but the delivery. Having gone fastest - at the time - though Stage 3, five-tenths up on Tänak, the emotions got the better of the Irishman, who was reduced to tears at the finish control. "That was awesome," he cried. "I know I always get too emotional but when it all comes together like this it's just absolutely perfect. I just love what I do."