Sébastien Ogier believes his ability to keep a cool head in the face of extreme pressure earned him a sixth WRC title at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on Sunday.
The Frenchman led a fierce three-way drivers' title battle heading into the final round. And by Sunday, he knew he needed only to finish in sixth place to maintain his points advantage over rivals Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak.
Ogier's previous title-winning experience showed as he and co-driver Julien Ingrassia expertly measured their pace and level of risk on New South Wales' gravel stages, particularly when wet weather made the roads treacherous on the final day.
While their cool approach paid off, mistakes from Neuville and Tänak instantly eliminated both drivers from the championship battle late on.
Neuville exited the event after swiping a bank and ripping a rear wheel from his Hyundai i20 with three stages to run. Tänak meanwhile, surrendered his lead in the next speed test after his Toyota Yaris made contact with a tree and stopped after losing its drive.
Fifth place therefore guaranteed Ogier his sixth drivers' crown by a margin of 18 points. The M-Sport Ford World Rally Team driver was happy with the way he coped with the pressure he was under.
"I think you guess that I’m super-happy and satisfied with the championship. It’s been such an intense season," he explained. “It was almost the last stage of the rally when we won so, of course, the pressure was high.
"We made no mistakes and there were quite a few mistakes from the others [Neuville and Tänak] which cost some to retire and that’s the way we won the championship this weekend."
In the closest drivers' championship fight since 2003, all three title protagonists experienced both good and bad form during the 13-round season. Reflecting on his year, Ogier identified his victory at Dayinsure Wales Rally GB as the moment the title momentum swung back in his favour.
He said: "The season was up and down. In the middle, somehow we missed our luck and made some small mistakes and it was not looking great. But we never gave up the fight back.
"In GB it was a very important win that brought us some big points. We finished well on the last rallies of the season and what we have done makes me so happy for my whole team and especially for Malcolm [Wilson]."
Drivers' title success in Australia ensured Ogier and Ingrassia ended their two-season stay at M-Sport Ford with two drivers' titles and one manufacturers' crown.
Before the duo prepare to re-join Citroën Racing for 2019, Ogier was quick to salute the hard work and dedication M-Sport has shown since he joined them from Volkswagen at the end of 2016.
"To offer them [M-Sport] another title they so very well deserved, they worked really hard to achieve that and I rarely see such commitment in my career," he acknowledged.
"I have to say, it’s very hard to say I am leaving, but it’s like… leaving a girl you love; why are we doing that? Why now when we achieve everything in the last two years?
"But now we have an exciting adventure waiting for us and I am also looking forward to this one now. At least we say goodbye in the best way."