PHOTO: Jeremy Rogers
COFFS HARBOUR (15/9/2013) – Frenchman Sebastien Ogier claimed his sixth victory of the 2013 FIA World Rally Championship season but fell short by a single point from clinching the drivers’ title after a dramatic final stage of Coates Hire Rally Australia today.
Ogier was in control since the start on Thursday night, winning 19 of the 22 stages in his Volkswagen Polo R to triumph by 1min 32.1sec when crews returned to the coastal city of Coffs Harbour this afternoon.
The 22nd Rally Australia attracted big crowds who braved plenty of dust to see the world’s best rally drivers – but when it came to Ogier’s rally, it was done but not dusted.
An ironic twist sank Ogier’s anticipated title celebrations. A final-stage puncture for Mikko Hirvonen, who had been running second in his Citroen DS3, allowed Ogier’s nearest championship rival Thierry Neuville into the runner-up spot.
The extra points for Neuville, allied to two bonus points for taking second in the final Shipmans Power Stage, meant Ogier fell just short of the title after four days of gravel competition covering 352.36km around the Coffs Coast of New South Wales.
“The team told me at the finish line that I had missed the title by one point because Mikko had a problem. I tried my best,” said 29-year-old Ogier, who was congratulated at the end of the stage by his father, mother and sister.
“The most important thing is that we did another perfect rally and we thought it was OK for the title, but it can’t be written down yet.
When you do a perfect job like that you expect to get it, but it’s going to happen soon,” warned Ogier, who has three rounds remaining in which to be secure the crown.
Hirvonen enjoyed one of his best performances of the season in his Citroen DS3 until his rear left tyre punctured midway through the last 29.44km Shipmans Power Stage.
“I have absolutely no idea what happened. I drove in the middle of the road all the time and I can’t understand how we got a puncture,” said the incredulous Finn.
He lost almost a minute and that was enough to allow the consistent Neuville through to second for a fifth consecutive podium in his Ford Fiesta RS. He finished 30.0sec ahead of Hirvonen in third after a troublefree event.
Jari-Matti Latvala finished fourth in another Polo R, the Finn recovering from a lacklustre start to fight back up the leaderboardHe, too, lost a minute with front left tyre issues in the final stage, but it didn’t cost any places.
Fifth was Mads Ostberg in a Fiesta RS. The Norwegian was unhappy with his pace notes early in the rally and lost more time yesterday when he spun into a ditch, but he finished 20.4sec ahead of fellow countryman Andreas Mikkelsen in a Polo R.
Mikkelsen led a WRC round for the first time after Thursday night’s curtain-raising tests.
He fell back during the first full day of competition after an overshoot and refused to become drawn into a battle with Ostberg for fifth today.
A subdued Evgeny Novikov took seventh in a Fiesta RS, the Russian settling for a clear run after a series of accidents.
Coffs Harbour resident Nathan Quinn delighted home fans with eighth in a Mini Countryman John Cooper Works to score his first WRC points.
The provisional top 10 was completed by Khalid Al Qassimi’s DS3 and WRC 2 category winner Abdulaziz Al Kuwari in a Fiesta RRC.
There was more disappointment for Kris Meeke. Having rolled out of fourth yesterday afternoon, Citroen’s mechanics worked for 2hr 50min to repair his DS3 and allow him to restart. However, he retired again after destroying his car’s right rear suspension late in the final test.
The WRC resumes at the all-asphalt Rallye de France-Alsace on 3-6 October.
1 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Volkswagen) Total time 3 hrs 19 min. 55.0 sec.
2 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Ford) + 1:32.1 behind winner
3 Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen (Citroen) + 2:02.1
4 Jari-Matti Latvala/Mikka Anttila(Volkswagen) 2:57.4
5 Mads Ostberg/Jonas Andersson (Ford) 3:17.2
6 Andreas Mikkelsen/Paul Nagle (Volkswagen) 3:37.6
7 Evgeny Novikov/Ilka Minor (Ford) 7:31.2
8 Nathan Quinn/Glenn Macneall (Mini) 13:10.2
9 Khalid Al Qassimi/Scott Martin (Citroen) 15:17.6
10 Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari/Killian Duffy (Ford) 17:27.7