Dominant Ogier rules world rally for sixth year
Dominant Frenchman Sebastien Ogier clinched his sixth world rally title Sunday in a gripping final race of the year at Australia, denying Belgian Thierry Neuville and Estonia’s Ott Tanak maiden crowns.
In one of the closest seasons of recent times, the M-Sport Ford driver came into the race with a three-point cushion over Hyundai’s Neuville and 23 in front of Toyota ace Tanak.
All he needed to do was stay ahead of the Belgian and in touch with Tanak over the three days of frantic driving over the dusty and slippery roads around Coffs Harbour.
The experienced campaigner and his co-driver Julien Ingrassia did just that, getting an early edge when Neuville lost 40 seconds on day one when he blew a tyre.
And when both Neuville and Tanak clipped trees and were forced to retire as they took risks in a desperate bid to make up time in the final stages on Sunday afternoon, the title was his before the rally finished.
Ogier admitted he drove some of the stages Sunday “like my grandma would do”, knowing any mistakes could be costly.
“It was so difficult, I thought the last kilometres would be drier but some super slippy sections in there. Not a relaxing Sunday drive for sure,” he said.
He has now won six titles in a row to move within three of the greatest driver ever, fellow Frenchman Sebastien Loeb, who claimed nine on the trot between 2004-2012.
“All that drama means one thing, we did it, @SebOgier and Julien have claimed their sixth FIA World Rally Championship!” his triumphant M-Sport team tweeted.
“A massive team effort and the perfect way to say farewell after two very special years together.”
This was the last race for Ford by Ogier, who announced in September he and Ingrassia were rejoining Citroen on a two-year deal.
He was part of the Citroen team between 2008-11 before decamping to Volkswagen between 2013-16 when he won four world titles, and then M-Sport Ford where he won his fifth and sixth titles.
The rain that had been forecast for the region finally arrived early Sunday, leaving the forest roads treacherously slippery, as overnight leader Tanak found to his cost, sliding into the trees on stage two.
He lost 12 seconds with Toyota teammate Jari-Matti Latvala taking the overall lead in a race that the Estonian had to not only win but also claim bonus points in the event-closing stage to have any hope of eclipsing Ogier.
The Frenchman was taking no risks, unlike Neuville who clipped a bank while pushing hard and then had exhaust trouble in morning action.
Despite this he managed to chip away at the lead, but it was ultimately futile.
The Belgian needed to haul back 39 seconds over the final three stages but he stopped on the third-last stage with damage to his car, and when Tanak failed to finish the penultimate stage, Ogier was champion.
“We’ve been giving everything and took some risks to try to get the title,” said Neuville.
“We had nothing to lose anymore. In SS22, the conditions were really bad. We went wide, clipped a tree, damage our car and had to retire.”