TOYOTA driver Ott Tänak moved closer to a maiden FIA World Rally Championship with a hard-earned Wales Rally GB win on Sunday, but he may have to wait until the closing round in Australia next month to finally clinch the title.
PHOTO: Ott Tänak moves a step closer to his maiden WRC with victory on Wales Rally GB (Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool)
Outright victory and on the points-paying Power stage earned the Estonian maximum points on one of the toughest rallies of the season, with Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville just 10.9 seconds behind in second place and defending champion Sébastien Ogier third.
Tänak’s fifth win from the past seven rallies boosted his lead in the standings to 28 points over Ogier. He needs to increase the margin to 31 to secure the title at RallyRACC Catalunya-Rally de Espanã in three weeks’ time, but may be forced to a decider with Ogier at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on the NSW Coffs Coast on 14-17 November.
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 4-day ticket-holders.
Muddy forest roads in north and mid-Wales, rain and fog meant Tänak had to be at his best in his Toyota Yaris to fend off Neuville and Ogier.
They snapped at his heels after he claimed the lead from teammate Kris Meeke late on Friday night. The Estonian held them at bay and the pair helped Toyota Gazoo Racing cut Hyundai Motorsport’s manufacturers’ championship lead to eight points.
“It was a long weekend with long days and short nights and a lot of pressure. I guess the gap was never bigger than 10sec and every stage I was on the limit,” Tänak said.
“It was a hard one but it feels good at the moment. We still have two more rallies to go and we have seen plenty of drama in the past, so we need to keep focused.”
Neuville, without a win since April, emerged as the closest challenger in his Hyundai i20. But in a rally where the time gaps were small despite the tricky conditions, the Belgian could not make inroads in Sunday’s closing four stages close to the rally base in Llandudno.
Ogier completed the podium a further 12.9sec back. The Frenchman’s hopes of a seventh-straight title slipped, but there are still 60 points available over the last two rounds.
“It’s not a great result for us in terms of the championship with just two rounds to go, but we’re going to keep fighting tooth and nail for as long as it remains possible mathematically to win the title,” Ogier said.
Neuville is 41 points off the lead. He said: “The championship now moves onto Spain, where we know we have to outscore him to keep our own title hopes alive. Everything can happen in rallying, so we never give up.”
Meeke led throughout Friday’s first full day in his Yaris but could not reproduce the same pace over the weekend. He finished 11.8sec behind Ogier and a similar margin clear of the battle for fifth between Elfyn Evans and Andreas Mikkelsen.
Evans trailed the Norwegian on Sunday morning after damaging his Ford Fiesta’s suspension when he ran wide at fast corner on Friday. The Welshman, the winner in Britain in 2017, charged back up the order and relegated Mikkelsen by 9.6sec.
Teammate Teemu Suninen failed to restart on Sunday after damaging his car in a crash on Saturday, leaving the third Fiesta of Pontus Tidemand to take seventh.
Craig Breen recovered from a spectacular roll to finish eighth in another i20.
Kalle Rovanperä was ninth in a Skoda Fabia, a result which secured the 19-year-old the world title in the WRC 2 Pro support category. Former world champion Petter Solberg, 44, a four-time Rally GB winner, finished 10th and won WRC 2 in an emotional final rally before retirement.
The WRC moves to RallyRACC Catalunya-Rally de España, the only mixed-surface fixture of the season, in Salou on 24-27 October.
FINAL RESULTS, Wales Rally GB (WRC round 12 of 14):
1 O. Tänak/M. Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 3hrs00min58.0sec
2 T. Neuville/N. Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +10.9sec
3 S. Ogier/J. Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) +23.8
4 K. Meeke/S. Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +35.6
5 E. Evans/S. Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) +48.6
6 A. Mikkelsen/A. Jæger-Amland (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +58.2
7 P. Tidemand/O. Fløene (Ford Fiesta WRC) +5:23.8
8 C. Breen/P. Nagle (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +9:25.0
9 K. Rovanperä/J. Halttunen (Škoda Fabia R5) +10:51.1
10 P. Solberg/P. Mills (Volkswagen Polo R5) +11:36.1
WRC Drivers’ Standings (after round 12):
1 O. Tanak 240
2 S. Ogier 212
3 T. Neuville 199
4 A. Mikkelsen 102
5 K. Meeke 98
6 E. Evans 90
7 J.M Latvala 84
8 T. Suninen 83
9 E. Lappi 83
10 D. Sordo 72
WRC Manufacturers’ Standings (after round 12):
1 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 340
2 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 332
3 Citroën Total World Rally Team 278
4 Sport Ford World Rally Team 200