Victory in the season-ending event was Mikkelsen’s career-third and boosted his standing in the WRC elite ranks as he awaits confirmation of a new post-Volkswagen team assignment for 2017.
He led from the Friday-morning start, won 10 of the 23 stages and when the gap was down to a breathtaking 0.3sec. this morning it was not him but the pursuing four-time world champion who blinked.
Ogier won the final two stages, but could only reduce his deficit to 14.9sec. A further 57.7sec. behind, Thierry Neuville’s third place in a Hyundai i20 secured him the runner-up position in the 2016 driver standings after the already-crowned Ogier.
Mikkelsen and Ogier delivered a perfect finale to four years of WRC domination by the German manufacturer and its Polo R car. It was the team’s 43rd win from 52 rallies and came in an exciting conclusion in sweltering and dusty New South Wales forests near Coffs Harbour.
The 25th Rally Australia was the most successful since the event moved to the New South Wales Coffs Coast in 2011. Big crowds packed the stages, especially the waterfront Destination New South Wales Super Special Stage, accommodation sold out and organisers welcomed the biggest entry list since 2009.
At the official podium finish in the centre of Coffs Harbour, joyful Volkswagen team members celebrated by climbing all over the car on the podium and bouncing on the roof.
“This is a perfect end to the season,” Mikkelsen said of his win.
“All year consistency and pace was our aim with the championship in mind, but I came here with nothing to lose. I could go flat out and see what we could do.
“We challenged the world champion and beat him fair and square on the same road conditions. It’s my best victory but it’s sad to see this team and the car come to an end.”
New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon had an outside chance of victory in third but his i20 swiped a bank and knocked the rear-left tyre off the rim. The time loss promoted teammate Neuville to the podium.
Paddon’s problems relegated him temporarily to fifth, but he overhauled teammate Dani Sordo for fourth by 1.6sec. Mads Østberg couldn’t keep Sordo behind him after dust inside his Ford Fiesta RS impaired visibility and he finished sixth, while teammate Eric Camilli rolled out of seventh after hitting a bank.
Ott Tänak eventually claimed seventh, ahead of WRC2 winner Esapekka Lappi and a fast recovering Jari-Matti Latvala. Lappi’s win confirmed him as WRC2 World Champion.
Lorenzo Bertelli lost time when a broken rear differential put his Fiesta RS in two-wheel drive mode, but the Italian finished 10th.
Rally Australia, overall final classification (provisional):
1. A. Mikkelsen / A. Jager (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) Time 2:46:05.7
2. S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) Behind first +14.9
3. T. Neuville / N. Gilsoul (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +1:12.6
4. H. Paddon / J. Kennard (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +1:26.7
5. D. Sordo / M. Martí (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +1:28.3
6. M. Østberg / O. Floene (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +1:41.5
7. O. Tanak / R. Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +3:04.3
8. E. Lappi / J. Ferm (Škoda Fabia R5) +7:32.3
9. J. M. Latvala / M. Anttila (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +7:56.9
10. L. Bertelli / S. Scattolin (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +8:00.1
2016 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers (after Rd 13):
1. S. Ogier 268 points
2. T. Neuville 160
3. A. Mikkelsen 154
4. H. Paddon 138
5. D. Sordo 130
6. J. M. Latvala 112
7. M. Østberg 102
8. O. Tanak 88
9. K. Meeke 64
10. C. Breen 36
2016 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers (after Rd 13):
1. Volkswagen Motorsport 377 points
2. Hyundai Motorsport 312
3. Volkswagen Motorsport II 163
4. M-Sport World Rally Team 162
5. Hyundai Motorsport N 146