The FIA World Rally Championship is packing its bags for an epic Australian showdown in just over two weeks after Frenchman Sébastien Ogier won the penultimate round in Wales yesterday.
Ogier mastered fog and mud to win the Dayinsure Wales Rally GB by 10.2sec, leading from start to finish in a factory-run Volkswagen Polo R. Victory confirmed the manufacturers’ world title for the German squad for a fourth time.
Ott Tänak of Estonia matched his career-best result by taking second place in a Ford Fiesta RS, with Thierry Neuville securing his fourth consecutive podium in a Hyundai i20 in third.
While Ogier had already secured his fourth straight drivers’ title in Spain earlier this month, the Wales result means the fight for second and third in the series will go down to the wire between four drivers on the New South Wales Coffs Coast on 17-20 November.
Neuville moved to a clear second place in the standings after the weekend, but Volkswagen rival Andreas Mikkelsen and Hyundai teammates Hayden Paddon and Dani Sordo all retain a chance. The contenders are covered by a spread of 24 points, with 28 available in Australia promising a pitched battle on the 313 km gravel course.
Rally Australia also will decide the WRC2 category, which has been hotly contested this season by the world’s fastest up-and-coming young pilots.
With standings calculated on drivers’ best-six performances, Flying Finn Esapekka Lappi edged closer to a potential title with his third WRC2 victory of the season in Wales. Third place yesterday put countryman Teemu Suninen into the lead, equal on points to Britain’s Elfyn Evans but ahead on countback.
Lappi is the only driver still with a points-scoring opportunity and will head to the final round in Australia with his factory Skoda Fabia R5 needing to win or finish second to become WRC2 champion.
With plenty of spoils still up for grabs – including the tightest contest in the history of the Kumho Tyres Australian Rally Championship – the scene is set for an epic 25th Rally Australia, event Chairman Ben Rainsford said.
“What a way to celebrate our 25th anniversary. With so much on the line for competitors in WRC, WRC2 and the ARC, it will be an absolutely fantastic experience for spectators,” Mr Rainsford said.
“With Kennards Hire Rally Australia little more than a fortnight away and an epic competition in store, I expect to see a surge in on-line ticket sales.
“A 3-Day Super Pass that gets spectators to every point including the Destination NSW Super Special Stage on the Coffs Harbour waterfront is great value at $120, plus there will be many opportunities where fans will be able to see the stars and cars up-close for free.
“We’re currently counting more than 70 entries overall, our planning is complete, the final build at our various venues is under way and we’re ready to welcome everybody to the Coffs Coast and an unforgettable World Rally Championship finale.”
Kennards Hire Rally Australia kicks off with a free Rally Show and Ceremonial Start in the main street of Coffs Harbour on Thursday 17 November. Three days of competition follow on forestry and shire roads in the Macksville, Nambucca and Bucca areas before a podium finish back in the city centre.
Tickets are on sale at www.rallyaustralia.com.au or Ticketek.com.