COFFS COAST (NSW) -Jari-Matti Latvala stormed to a remarkable victory in Kennards Hire Rally Australia and French superstar Sebastien Ogier sealed a sixth-straight FIA World Rally Championship title on the New South Wales Coffs Coast this afternoon.
PHOTO: Jari-Matti Latvala (right) and co-driver Miikka Anttila celebrate their Kennards Hire Rally Australia victory (Bruce Thomas pic)
Latvala delivered one of his finest drives, beating Hyundai’s New Zealand pilot Hayden Paddon by 32.5 seconds while Citroen’s Mads Ostberg was third, a further 52.2 seconds behind.
Kennards Hire Rally Australia wrapped up the 2018 season in spectacular style. Occasional showers did not discourage fans, who flocked to see the spectacular action in the forests just north of Coffs Harbour.
As several key rivals fell off the road in the closing stages of the 318km, three-day season final, Latvala delivered stunning pace to claim three of the last six stages.
But it was at the expense of Toyota Gazoo Racing teammate Ott Tanak who remained in contention for the event and the drivers’ title until his Yaris came to grief against a tree on the penultimate stage.
Tanak’s retirement came immediately after Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, the only other driver who could have toppled Ogier for the crown, crashed sensationally on the repeat run through the Coramba Special Stage this afternoon.
The Belgian hit a bank and tore off a rear wheel off, ending any hope of edging ahead of Ogier in the closing kilometres.
The 30-year-old Neuville struggled on in his stricken machine for a short distance before pulling off the stage.
Latvala avoided the perils of an enthralling contest to become the fifth different Finnish driver to win Rally Australia, joining countrymen Juha Kankkunen, Tommi Makinen, Marcus Gronholm and Mikko Hirvonen.
Makinen, now Toyota WRC boss, celebrated his team’s victory in the 2018 FIA World Rally Chamionship for Manufacturers.
Capturing the Coffs Coast event ended a lengthy win drought for Latvala.
“It has been two very long years since I last won,” Latvala said.
“I was losing hope and then this morning things changed again and these difficult conditions worked in my favour.
“I am so happy to win here and it is such an amazing feeling to win the manufacturer title. This is an amazing result and I am so happy for our team.”
The Finn’s triumph cemented the first manufacturers’ title for Toyota since 1999 after a season-long battle with Hyundai.
Toyota ended with 368 points, 27 points more than Hyundai in a battle that went down to the wire.
As much as Latvala produced a storming rally, Ogier showed all the qualities that have made him one of the greatest four-wheel champions, surpassed only by Sébastien Loeb, with nine WRCs and Formula 1’s Michael Schumacher with seven titles.
Ogier cemented the championship in style, winning the final points-paying Power Stage on the rollercoaster Wedding Bells test.
The 34-year-old had shielded himself from risks, pushing when he had to and coming up trumps in what was described as his finest season.
In the end he compiled 219 points, 18 more than Neuville after leading the Belgian by a mere three points going into the Coffs Coastshowdown.
Ogier acknowledged how tough he had to fight to be in a position to win another championship.
“The season was so intense and in the last two stages so much has changed,” Ogier said.
“It is like a mixed feeling at this moment – I am so proud of what we have achieved and so proud of our team. You are the best.
“We had an amazing journey together. I’ve enjoyed the last push in this car. I can’t wait to see the team.”
Ogier ends a hugely successful two-year stint with the M-Sport Ford operation as he moves to Citroën next season.
Chilean driver Alberto Heller won the WRC2 category in a Ford FiestA R5.
FINAL RESULTS (PROVISIONAL)
Kennards Hire Rally Australia (WRC 13 of 13):
1 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota) 2:59:52.0
2 Hayden Paddon/Sebastian Marshall (Hyundai) +32.5s
3 Mads Ostberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroen) +52.2s
4 Esapekka Lappi/ Janne Ferm (Toyota) +01:02.3s
5 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (M-Sport Ford) +02:30.8s
6 Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt (M-Sport Ford) +03:05.1s
7 Craig Breen/Scott Martin (Citroen) +8:59.0s
8 Alberto Heller/Jose Diaz (Ford) +22:28.5s
9 Steve Glenney/Andy Sarandis (Skoda) +27:01.8s
10 Jourdan Serderidis/Lara Vanneste (Ford) +35:14.1s
FIA WRC drivers’ championship (after 13 of 13 rounds):
1. Sébastien Ogier 219 points
2. Thierry Neuville 201
3. Ott Tänak 181
4. Jari-Matti Latvala 128
5. Esapekka Lappi 126
6. Andreas Mikkelsen 84
7. Elfyn Evans 80
8. Hayden Paddon 73
9. Dani Sordo 71
10. Mads Ostberg 70
FIA WRC manufacturers’ championship (after 13 of 13 rounds):
1. Toyota Gazoo Racing 368 points
2. Hyundai WRT 341
3. M-Sport Ford WRT 324
4. Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT 237
CAMS Australian Rally Championship – Eli Evans wins fourth title
RETURNING to the top of the CAMS Australian Rally Championship tree for the first time since 2015, Eli Evans admitted the final day of Kennards Hire Rally Australia was one when he tried simply to do nothing other than stay on the road.
“Honestly I barely got the car sideways today. I just had to keep it really neat, try not to smash it against the ground because there’s 50 bumps and 50 jumps in every stage,” Evans said, now a four-time national champion.
After dropping out of the contest on the first day when a heavy jump landing broke his Skoda’s radiator, Evans knew getting back on the road and producing two good days of driving was needed to snare the title.
“Luckily we had enough of a points lead that if we were super-consistent we were still a chance to win so that’s what we did over the next two days,” he said.
Fifth in the ARC rally was enough for Evans to clinch the title, while Steve Glenney won the event in another Skoda, almost 18 minutes ahead of rally rookie Luke Anear and with a further large gap to Andrew Penny.
Before the Rally Australia start, Evans’ nearest rival in the title race was Harry Bates but the Toyota Yaris driver’s chances disappeared with an engine failure yesterday.
Evans was thrilled with his win.
“There’s a list of very, very fast drivers in Australia and me winning this year means that I’ve managed to beat most of them,” he said.
“Guys like Harry Bates, Steve Glenney, Molly Taylor, Scott Pedder, Simon Evans, all these top line drivers and this year I’ve managed to beat Harry and beat Steve. Not in every rally but over a whole year so it’s a nice feeling.”
Further CAMS ARC information, results, images, etc, here –