Frenchman Sebastien Ogier has cemented his place in rallying folklore by claiming his sixth consecutive World Rally Championship title, after a stunning last-gasp comeback at the WRC season-ending Rally Australia in Coffs Harbour.
He, alongside co-driver Julien Ingrassia, finished a safe sixth on the event, after his closest rivals all fell by the wayside in a sensational swing of fortunes over the event’s last handful of stages.
Ogier, driving a Ford Fiesta WRC for the underfunded M-Sport team, came into the last round of the season just a handful of points behind of powerhouse squad Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, who squandered a strong mid-season points leading ahead of the Australian finale.
Despite the disadvantage of running first on the gravel shire roads around the northern NSW beachside town on day one and falling as low as 10th, Ogier played a steady hand throughout, leaching the pressure back onto an increasingly flustered Neuville.
The Belgian driver stumbled early, belting a hay bale then puncturing a tyre on day one, pushing him down the order.
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Ogier then simply drove his own race, holding station as his rivals fell away. Neuville struggled to stay within two places of the defending champ all weekend, before finally binning his i20 WRC with just three stages left to run and retiring on the spot.
The only other driver with a mathematical chance of wresting the title away from Ogier, Toyota’s Ott Tanak, also crashed out late on Sunday, but his DNF didn’t affect Toyota claiming its first manufacturer’s crown since 1999. Lead driver Jarri-Matti Latvala’s win, meanwhile, was simply icing on the cake.
Ogier, who switches to the Citroen squad in 2019, embraced team principal Malcolm Wilson after the event, both men clearly emotional after two successful seasons together.
“It is a mixed feeling at this moment,” said Ogier. "I'm proud of what I have achieved and my team, they are the best.
"It has been an amazing journey together and now I just enjoyed the last push in this car. I hope I will not miss it.”
New Zealand driver Hayden Paddon finished second in the rally, rounding off a fine season of part-time performances for Hyundai, while Citroen’s Mads Ostberg claimed a spirited third.
Meanwhile, Victoria’s Eli Evans won his fourth Australian Rally Championship overall title after finishing fifth on the ARC event within Rally Australia, after both of his title rivals fell away over the course of the weekend.
Subaru’s Molly Taylor crashed out in spectacular style on day one, while Toyota’s Harry Bates suffered an engine malady on day two. Steve Glenney won the ARC round, finishing ninth overall on the rally.