THE fight for the FIA World Rally Championship could go down to the final kilometres when the most competitive season in decades reaches its climax at Kennards Hire Rally Australia in November.
With three of the season’s 13 rounds still to run, defending four-time champion Sébastien Ogier of France, Belgian Thierry Neuville, Ott Tänak of Estonia and Jari-Matti Latvala of Finland, all retain chances of wresting the drivers’ title in the world’s most challenging motorsport series.
The remaining rounds in Spain, Great Britain and Australia will yield up to 90 points for the most successful driver. Each of the four will be determined not only to win, but also to finish and score points at all costs, meaning that barring catastrophe none will be likely to break clear of the pack before Australia.
“We’re expecting a climax truly worthy of a world championship when the best rally drivers on the planet take to the Coffs Coast roads on 16-19 November,” event Chairman Ben Rainsford said.
“The WRC always produces incomparable drama and excitement. Anything can happen – and often does – to cut down even the best drivers at the eleventh hour.
“This season had produced six different winners and there are several more drivers who could win on a good day, so it won’t be surprising if the WRC isn’t decided until the last day of Rally Australia.”
Ogier, driving an M-Sport Ford Fiesta, and Hyundai star Neuville have led the championship battle as it ventured to eight European countries plus Mexico and Argentina, but Tänak’s victory in the most recent round in Germany emphasised the title is now in his sights also.
Victory boosted Tänak closer to Ogier and Neuville in the standings. He is 33 points behind his teammate Ogier and 16 points behind Neuville.
“It is never over before it is over. We managed to get closer (after Germany) to the two guys in front of us. It is three rallies to go and the gap is not too big, so let’s see what happens,” he said.
“I don’t see any reason why we should not be able to fight for it, so we will fight for it. We need to keep winning if we want to win the championship.”
While Tänak triumphed in Germany, Ogier’s third-place finish saw him break free of a points tie he’d shared with Neuville. In the see-saw WRC competition, Neuville failed to score any points, experiencing the same fate Ogier suffered in the previous round in Finland.
Germany was a bitter set-back for Neuville, who despite having three wins to Ogier’s two, is still paying the price of throwing away other near-certain victories at the start of the season.
However, he declared: “The championship is not over. I will give everything to turn things around in the final three rounds of the season.
“I know that I can catch some points to Ogier for sure, but a lot will depend on his results at the upcoming events. On the next three rounds Seb can have a problem as well, he can make a mistake, have a puncture, everything is still possible.”
With a 54-point deficit to Ogier, Latvala admits his chances are slim, but the popular Finn and his Toyota team have pulled out some surprise performances this year and could do so again.
Latvala has been championship runner-up three times, but has perhaps his best chance to win after escaping the dominance of Ogier when they were together in the Volkswagen team for the past four seasons.
And while Ogier, Neuville, Tänak and Latvala will be fighting with every skill they possess to win the final three rallies and the championship, the wildcards are the other elite WRC drivers capable of overturning the apple cart.
Kris Meeke (Citroën), Esapekka Lappi (Toyota), Elfyn Evans (M-Sport), Juho Hänninen, Andreas Mikkelsen (Citroën) and Craig Breen (Citroen) all agree this is the most open, competitive WRC season in a long time.
And in the tradition of the WRC’s unpredictability, it won’t be over until the very last kilometre in Australia.
Entries are scheduled to open on 14 September for Kennards Hire Rally Australia, which also will host rounds of the Australian, New South Wales and Queensland Rally Championships.