Australia Debrief: Part One
As the final round of the year, and decider of the closest title fight since 2003, last weekend’s Kennards Hire Rally Australia kept us on the edge of our seats from start to finish.
Driver of the rally
He might not have finished on the podium, but looking at the bigger picture, this honour has to go to Sébastien Ogier. The M-Sport Ford World Rally Team driver’s measured, risk-free approach helped secure a safe passage through the 24-stage event and seal his sixth WRC title.
Finishing fifth and admitting he was ‘driving like my grandma’ on some stages might not have been spectacular, but the impressive Frenchman did all that was required in the face of some tricky conditions. It was the mark of a true world champion.
One to forget
The man to beat for the bulk of the season, Thierry Neuville headed Down Under with a three-point deficit to Ogier but was confident he could win his first world title.
However, the Hyundai man’s challenge unravelled almost straight away. Damaging a wheel in the Sherwood test meant Neuville tumbled down the order at the end of day one and struggled with a less favourable road position on day two.
He decided to go for broke on Sunday in a last-ditch attempt to secure the points he needed. But the gamble didn’t pay off. Clouting a bank and losing a rear wheel brought his rally and title charge to a sudden end. “Voila!” was the dejected Belgian's summary as he retired his car at the side of the road.
Save of the rally
With heavy rain turning Sunday’s stages into a mud bath, crews found themselves struggling to stay on the road as they desperately scrabbled for grip.
Mads Østberg must have thought his podium prospects were slipping away when he uncontrollably lurched straight towards the undergrowth at a left-hand corner.
With a wide-eyed and panicked look on his face, the Citroën driver somehow managed to scrub off just enough speed to ensure he didn’t get stuck. His quick thinking was rewarded with third place – and his second podium of the year.
Stage of the rally
The best tests are usually the ones where two equally-matched drivers slog it out for the rally lead. The Welshs Creek Reverse 2 test was a case in point in Australia.
Title-chasing Ott Tänak was gradually eating into team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala’s lead throughout Saturday before he made a decisive move on SS14.
Needing to overturn a 3.2sec deficit heading into the test, Tänak stormed to a time that was 4.0sec quicker than Latvala’s effort. It earned him a 0.8sec advantage at the head of the field. Job done.
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