Victory on last year's 10th WRC round would secure a third consecutive world title for Sébastien Ogier. But would the trip Down Under turn his rally winning form upside down?
Friday 11 September 2015
The rally's opening day was all about the lead battle between Volkswagen's Jari-Matti Latvala and Citroën rival Kris Meeke. And after eight stages it was Polo R driver Latvala who emerged on top - grabbing the lead in the final stage after charging up from fifth during a strong afternoon attack. Latvala ended a slippery morning in New South Wales almost 11sec behind Meeke. But a hat-trick of wins in the repeated stages helped him catch and pass Meeke - who was hampered by hanging dust in the final stage - to lead by 2.0sec.
The event's loose and dry gravel roads disadvantaged the early starters. Road opener Ogier [above] was worst affected and struggled in sixth before quickest time in the cleaner final stage promoted him to third. Andreas Mikkelsen was fourth, 3.0sec clear of Dani Sordo, who took advantage of a low start position to lead after winning the opening three tests. Hayden Paddon held second initially but slipped to sixth after handling problems in his Hyundai i20. The only major retirement was Stéphane Lefebvre who hit a rock and broke his DS 3's suspension. Lefebvre was a last minute replacement for Mads Østberg, who was ruled out after cracking two ribs in a crash during the pre-event recce.
Saturday 12 September
Ogier fought his way back to lead after Saturday’s leg with Meeke and Latvala completing a top three that was covered by just 2.6sec. Ogier snatched the lead from Meeke in a final dusty, night stage to head him by just three-tenths of a second, with Latvala a further 2.3sec behind after a titanic daylong battle. Meeke snatched the lead from Latvala in the opening 50.80km Nambucca test. But when the two morning stages were repeated on cleaner and faster roads Ogier was untouchable. Mikkelsen was fourth, 9.1sec off the lead, while Paddon won two stages to move fifth. Ott Tänak climbed from eighth to sixth in his Ford Fiesta RS. Thierry Neuville held seventh ahead of team-mate Sordo who lost time with brake problems.
Sunday 13 September
Ogier continued his stage-winning pace to take his seventh victory of the season and seal his third consecutive WRC title. He defeated Latvala by 12.3sec, while Meeke finished third, a further 20.3sec behind. Volkswagen’s 1-2 secured a third manufacturers’ crown for the German squad, but there was a late scare for Latvala as he finished the penultimate stage with an alternator warning light flashing. He fitted a new belt to clinch the runners-up spot.
Meeke admitted he had no answer to the pace of the Polo Rs on Sunday. Having started just three-tenths of a second behind Ogier courtesy of better road conditions in the opening two legs, he quickly fell back and looked set to concede third to Mikkelsen. However, Mikkelsen checked in to Sunday’s mid-leg service late and a 10sec penalty gave Meeke the breathing space he needed. Paddon finished fifth with Tänak sixth and Neuville and Sordo in seventh and eighth.