Katsuta heads Japan warm-up field
Central Rally Aichi is rehearsal for Japan’s 2020 WRC return
Leg 1: Friday
All three championship contenders struggled for grip at the head of the start order in dry conditions. Ogier claimed the advantage when Neuville dropped almost 45sec in the final forest speed test after locking-up at a chicane and stalling his Hyundai i20’s engine.
Neuville dropped to 10th, three places behind Ogier’s Ford Fiesta. The Frenchman was aided by team-mates Teemu Suninen and Elfyn Evans, who deliberately slowed to promote Ogier up the leaderboard and ensure a better leg 2 start position.
Mads Østberg, the lowest frontrunner in the start order, used his road advantage to head a Citroën C3 1-2. He ended 6.8sec clear of Craig Breen.
Jari-Matti Latvala was third. He and Toyota team-mate Esapekka Lappi were tied at the top, but Lappi lost 20sec when his engine took on water in a river crossing. He ended sixth.
Hayden Paddon was fourth in an i20, with Tänak next up after an error-strewn day which almost ended early when a kicker launched his Yaris into a bank. Tänak was third but fell foul of the same watersplash as Lappi.
Leg 2: Saturday
Tänak stormed into the lead in a desperate attempt to salvage his title bid. After a blistering charge from fifth, he led Latvala by 21.9sec, winning six of the 10 speed tests and relegating the Finn from top spot as he was slowed by worn tyres.
Paddon climbed to third ahead of a frustrated Østberg, who struggled with his C3’s balance. Breen fared worse. The Irishman spun into a bank and damaged his rear suspension, plunging to 10th. Lappi profited to hold fifth, almost a minute clear of Ogier.
Ogier delivered a composed drive through the dusty New South Wales shire roads. He reined in his attacking instincts as Neuville struggled in the dry conditions and ended eighth.
Leg 3: Sunday
An unruffled drive to fifth was sufficient for Ogier to take the title after heavy rain transformed the gravel roads into a muddy mess.
Neuville and Tänak escaped morning brushes with the scenery, but Neuville went out three stages from the finish after swiping a bank and ripping a rear wheel from his i20. In the next test Tänak slithered into a tree and his Yaris ground to a halt with no drive.
Tänak’s exit handed the lead to Latvala, preserving his record of winning a WRC round in every season since 2008. His win secured the manufacturers’ title for Toyota Gazoo Racing.
Paddon survived the carnage to claim second with Østberg filling the podium in a Citroën C3, despite hitting a tree and peeling the rear right door panel from his car. Lappi finished fourth with Evans filling the top six behind Ogier.