THE FIA World Rally Championship could now be a three-way fight to the finish in Australia after Toyota’s Ott Tänak earned himself a chance with a second-straight round win in Germany yesterday.
The Estonian driver cruised to a 39.2-second victory in ADAC Rally Deutschland, round nine of the series, three weeks after success in Finland.
With the championship-ending 13thround at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on 15-18 November, Tänak has closed to 36 points short of current standings leader Thierry Neuville and 13 adrift of Sébastien Ogier – after counting himself out of the battle two rallies ago. Each driver has won three rounds.
Tänak’s late-season form could force the championship to a decider at Rally Australia, which starts in 87 days’ time, event organisers predict.
“Australian fans will be watching the next rounds in Turkey, Great Britain and Spain closely. This is the WRC at its best – three drivers in three different makes of car and some really difficult physical and mental challenges ahead before the final stage on the New South Wales Coffs Coast,” Rally Australia Chairman Ben Rainsford said.
The 30-year-old Tänak remains coy about his chances after the weekend victory, which also lifted his Toyota Gazoo Racing team from third to second in the manufacturers’ championship.
“I don’t know about a championship challenge, but it’s great to win this specific event. This morning was very, very tough. Seb was pushing so hard and it was difficult to keep up with him,” he said after clinching his second Rallye Deutschland win.
Tänak was headed for only one stage on Friday morning and laid the platform for success with a crushing drive in his Toyota Yaris over zig-zag Mosel vineyard tracks. His task eased when Ogier stopped to change a damaged wheel on his Ford Fiesta on Saturday and plunged down the order from second.
Neuville couldn’t match Tänak as he struggled with his Hyundai i20’s handling. He inherited an unexpected second place when a fierce fight for the runners-up position between Jari-Matti Latvala and Dani Sordo ended in disaster for both drivers on Sunday morning.
Latvala, holding a 0.8sec advantage over the Spaniard, retired his Yaris in the opening stage with hydraulic problems while Sordo crashed his i20 into the vines. He limped through the stage but a water leak in the engine forced him out.
Esapekka Lappi finished third in another Yaris, 60.9sec adrift of Neuville. It was the best sealed-surface result of the Finn’s career.
Ogier’s dream of a sixth consecutive drivers’ title took a severe knock when he dropped to ninth on Saturday. He threw caution to the wind and two stage victories in his Fiesta on Sunday promoted him to fourth. With maximum Power Stage bonus points, he conceded only two points to Neuville.
M-Sport Ford teammate Teemu Suninen finished fifth on his asphalt debut in a World Rally Car after leapfrogging an out-of-sorts Andreas Mikkelsen, who struggled with the handling of his i20.
The FIA World Rally Championship heads next to Rally Turkey, for the first time since 2010. The round 10 gravel-road encounter will be run out of Marmaris on 13-16 September.
Final outright result, ADAC Rallye Deutschland (FIA WRC Rd 9 of 13):
1 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 3h03m36.9s
2 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +39.2s
3 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1m00.9s
4 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1m34.5s
5 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2m02.9s
6 Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +2m13.8s
7 Craig Breen/Scott Martin (Citroen C3 WRC) +2m39.1s
8 Marijan Griebel/Alexander Rath (Citroen DS3 WRC) +10m41.2s
9 Jan Kopecky/Pavel Dresler (Skoda Fabia R5) +13m12.8s
10 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Skoda Fabia R5) +13m16.6s
FIA WRC for drivers (after Rd 9):
1 Thierry Neuville 172 points
2 Sébastien Ogier 149
3 Ott Tänak 136
4 Esapekka Lappi 88
5 Andreas Mikkelsen 65
6 Dani Sordo 60
7 Jari-Matti Latvala 55
8 Elfyn Evans 52
9 Mads Ostberg 48
10 Craig Breen 47
FIA WRC for manufacturers (after Rd 9):
1 Hyundai WRT 254 points
2 Toyota Gazoo Racing 241
3 M-Sport Ford WRT 224
4 Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT 159