Ott Tänak won his first FIA World Rally Championship in a tense finale to the penultimate round at RallyRACC Catalunya – Rally de España on Sunday afternoon.
A win by the Estonian on the event-closing Wolf Power Stage was enough to boost him to second place for the weekend and into an unchallengeable position in the championship with a round to spare.
Toyota’s first drivers’ title since 1994 ended a 15-year French domination by the sport’s most successful drivers, Sébastiens Loeb and Ogier.
However, the fight for the runner-up position in the drivers’ competition between Spain winner Thierry Neuville and Ogier remains alive heading into the WRC’s grand finale at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on the NSW Coffs Coast on 14-17 November. The WRC manufacturers’ championship plus WRC 2 titles also will be settled in Australia.
Rally Australia Clerk of the Course Wayne Kenny congratulated Tänak on his victory, but said it would not diminish the end-of-season contest.
“There’s still a lot to fight for in Australia. Ott is a deserving winner after a superb season, but his rivals will give him no rest until the last stage is run in Australia,” Kenny said.
Tänak started Spain’s asphalt final stage in third place. He needed to finish no lower than one position behind event leader and title rival leader Neuville in the bonus-paying stage to prevent the Belgian carrying the fight to Australia.
But he didn’t require the power stage bonus points, sweeping past home hero Dani Sordo to claim second in a Toyota Yaris and spark wild celebrations among Estonian fans.
Tänak presented a calm figure throughout the championship’s only mixed-surface rally but later revealed the stress he had carried.
“It’s difficult to say the pressure I felt this weekend, it was next-level,” Tänak said post-race.
“To manage all this and get through it has been the target of my life. When you are on the verge of this you cannot imagine it.
“I never wanted to take risks, but my mother said yesterday evening that if I want something I can make it happen. I just had to make it happen.”
Neuville had led since Saturday morning in a bid to keep his title dream alive. His third victory of the season, allied with Sordo’s podium, enabled Hyundai Motorsport to extend its manufacturers’ championship lead to 18 points over Toyota Gazoo Racing.
As on Saturday, Loeb struggled for pace on the smooth flowing asphalt roads in Tarragona. Having led on Friday night, the Frenchman fell away from the podium battle to finish fourth in another i20, 36.3sec behind teammate Sordo.
Jari-Matti Latvala bagged solid points for Toyota in fifth, the Finn ending 14.0sec clear of Elfyn Evans’ Ford Fiesta. Teemu Suninen steered his similar car to seventh, despite spinning in the final stage.
Outgoing world champion Ogier recovered to eighth in the sole-surviving Citroën C3 after opening-day power steering problems ended his chances of a seventh crown.
WRC 2 Pro winner Mads Østberg and WRC 2 victory Eric Camilli completed the leaderboard.
Tickets for Kennards Hire Rally Australia, priced from $29 to $119, are available now from TICKETEK.COM. Highlights of the Coffs Coast event will include two nights of the harbourside Destination New South Wales Super Special Stage and a free concert by legendary rock band Dragon exclusively for four-day ticket-holders.
Kennards Hire Rally Australia will take place on the Coffs Coast in New South Wales on 15-17 November.