VOLKSWAGEN star Sébastien Ogier is on track for victory and a third FIA World Rally Championship title, as Coates Hire Rally Australia draws to a close.
The Frenchman is set to join an exclusive club of drivers with three or more titles. Only Sébastien Loeb (nine), Juha Kankkunen and Tommi Mäkinen (four each) have taken the crown more often. Co-driver Julien Ingrassia is also set for a third title.
“It has been a perfect morning,” said a very relaxed Ogier, at the end of the 6.40km Settles Road test.
“I’m very pleased with my run this morning. This stage was really fast so no room for mistakes. It was a clean run for me.”
Ogier now holds a 7.3 second advantage over his Finnish teammate, Jari-Matti Latvala. The pair has been tussling for fastest times over this morning’s three stages, running in the forests behind Moonee Beach north of Coffs Harbour,
Latvala is tired of playing bridesmaid and is keen to log his third win for the year and close the points gap to his rival, currently 207 to 114. He’s vowed to fight to the very end of the final stage.
“I try to think all the time where I can get more time. Probably I need to get the car to turn in a better, as I have an understeer problem. That would be one solution. It is not over.”
Citroën’s Kris Meeke remains in third position, 12.3 seconds shy of Latvala, and 4.2 seconds ahead of the third Volkswagen of Andreas Mikkelsen. The Irishman had been leading the event until the final stage of Day Two, run in darkness. Ogier came out of that 0.3 seconds ahead.
“I just do what I do,” Meeke said.
“I am happy – I just continue my driving and do the same job I did yesterday. Okay, the reality of it can be depressing sometimes.”
The three VW drivers have posted the top three times on each of today’s three stages, with Ogier fastest each time.
Hyundai’s New Zealand-born star, Hayden Paddon, has been punching out top five times this morning and remains in fifth place, nearly 43 seconds behind the leader. Wherever he goes, he has his own cheer squad of Kiwi supporters and he’s buoyed by their passion.
“I am just having fun today. It is always a pleasure to drive a WRC car, particularly when you see so many fans. So we’re going perhaps a little more sideways on the corners where they are.”
In the second tier WRC2 category, Nasser Al-Attiyah continues to lead, 16.9 seconds ahead of Yuriy Protasov, with Yazeed Al-Kuwari in third place, a further 1m:45.3s back.
The best-placed Australian in the category is Coffs Coast local Nathan Quinn in a one-off drive. He’s currently fourth in class and 14th outright.
Scott Pedder, the 2014 Australian Rally Champion, has contested several events in WRC2 this year but has struggled with a variety of issues on home turf this weekend. Today he has turbo problems which he hopes will be resolved in the midday service, allowing him to put his abilities on show.
Crews will run two of the morning’s stages again this afternoon. One – the 9.23km Wedding Bells stage – will be run live on television, with the top contenders going flat-chat to pick up the bonus points on offer for the fastest three times.
The rally closes with a ceremonial podium finish in the centre of Coffs Harbour at 3pm today, after three full days and 311km of competition. Volkswagen looks set to wrap up a triple hat trick of driver, co-driver and manufacturer titles, three events before the season ends.