M-Sport’s Sebastien Ogier with Julien Ingrassia took the 2018 FIA World Rally Championship victory as Toyota’s Jari-Matti Latvala wins Rally Australia.
It was already a difficult start for both Ogier and title rival Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville with Nicolas Gilsoul with their Ford Fiesta and Hyundai i20 respectively as they were ranked outside the Top 5 mostly in the early stages.
Neuville was ahead still until SS6 when his left rear tyre punctured after a jump as he slid into a chicane. He immediately lost time and places and despite the win in SS5, the Belgian was only 10th at the end of Friday running.
At the same time, Ogier struggled for pace but hung on to seventh with SS7 victory as Citroen’s Mads Ostberg with Torstein Eriksen led the way after a steady run which included a win in SS3 – it ended up in a Citroen 1-2 with Craig Breen with Scott Martin in second.
Breen had won SS6 in the process. Things changed course on Saturday as the Toyotas started to fire back with the day ending with outside title contender Ott Tanak with Martin Jarveoja leading from Latvala with Miikka Anttila.
Tanak had a decent Friday after he finished fifth with wins in SS4 and SS8 while Latvala was third with a win in SS2. The Estonian dominated Saturday with wins in SS10, SS11, SS12, SS14, SS16 and SS17 to lead the rally.
Both Ostberg and Breen had a difficult run as the former was still fourth but a spin for Breen meant he dropped way down to 10th. Ogier though kept gas to be sixth while Neuville’s hopes started to diminish as he was only eighth despite SS18 win.
With the hopes of Tanak rising and Neuville’s falling, the duo still had to overcome the deficit to Ogier in terms of points on the final day but it wasn’t to be for both the contenders as they both suffered retirements from the rally.
Tanak started well in SS19 but lost time in SS20 when he slithered into the trees. He had to regain the time but he went off in SS23 which ended his chances pretty much as Ogier was declared the 2018 champion with Neuville already out in SS22.
The Frenchman sealed his sixth consecutive WRC title in dramatic fashion despite not being in the favourite position at each time in the season with Neuville and then Tanak as well proving to be a worthy challengers.
Ogier finished the rally in fifth after winning the Power Stage to complete the 2018 edition. “It is difficult because the season was so intense and just happening in between two stages – getting the message on the road section,” he said.
“I’m so proud of my team, you are the best! We had such an amazing time together. I just had a final push in this car! I can’t wait to see the team again.” The win in Rally Australia went to Toyota’s Latvala though.
The Finn did well with wins in SS19, SS22 and SS23 and finally earned his first win of the 2018 season in the finale with Hyundai’s Hayden Paddon with Sebastian Marshall ending up second, having put no foot wring when others around him struggled.
The Kiwi had wins in SS9 and SS20 to his name but was consistent all-through. Citroen’s Ostberg rounded out the podium ahead of Toyota’s Esapekka Lappi with Janne Ferm with the Finn winning SS1, SS15 and SS21.
This allowed the Japanese manufacturer to take the constructors’ crown with 368 points to Hyundai’s 341. Ogier’s fifth place meant he ended up with 219 points to Neuville’s 201 and Tanak’s 181 – the latter two not adding anything after DNF.
Ogier’s teammate Elfyn Evans with Daniel Barritt was sixth after the British driver’s race was compromised due to the help he had to provide to his champion teammate. Behind Evans was Breen who struggled to the finish line.
Hyundai’s Andreas Mikkelsen with Anders Jaeger-Synnevaag was the last of the WRC runner but he finished outside the Top 10 in 11th to score no points. M-Sport’s Teemu Suninen with Mikko Markkula ran well until the penultimate stage which forced a DNF.