IT WAS a last lap like no other. Having taken the lead into the final corner on Macau’s tight and twisty street circuit, Formula 3 driver Ferdinand Habsburg ran wide and crashed out with the chequered flag in sight, as did long-time race leader Sérgio Sette Câmara.
In the end, third-placed Daniel Ticktum threaded his way through both of the wrecked cars to snatch a Stephen Bradbury-esque victory in one of the most exciting race finishes of 2017.
The early part of the race was tempered by two full-course yellow flags, with a safety car intervention bunching the F3 field up after two separate close-quarter racing incidents. Once racing resumed, Sette Camara took the lead.
As the laps counted down, Habsburg reined in Sette Camara. On the final lap, Habsburg made his first attempt on the outside at Mandarin. Sette Câmara managed to keep him at bay through Lisboa and the uphill section all the way to the notorious Melco hairpin, but Habsburg carried a momentum advantage on the straight down from Melco to Fisherman’s Bend. He crossed Sette Câmara on the penultimate corner, and snatched the lead going into R-Bend with a calculated inside line.
However, Sette Camara came out too hot and ran wide, crashing into the tyre stacks coming out of R-Bend, with Habsburg following him in slightly further down the track.
“It was an incredibly eventful race,” Ticktum said. “...The situation in the final corner, I had been quite unlucky all weekend, so I was due a bit of good luck. I can’t describe the feeling as I crossed the line.”
The spectacular finish mirrored an equally bizarre end to the GT World Cup series qualifier at the Macau circuit, where only four cars made it through to the end of the first lap before the race was red-flagged.
WEC: Hyundai’s Neuville takes Rally Australia thriller
And that is that, folks, for the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship…
It’s been a hectic, dramatic and always unpredictable series across many surfaces and a handful of continents. Thirteen rounds sprung seven different winners.
The most prolific winner with four is Hyundai’s Belgian ace Thierry Neuville who survived chaotic weather and road conditions in the Coffs Harbour region to record his first Kennards Hire Rally Australia victory yesterday.
As morning rain showers transformed the final stages into slippery and soggy runs, Neuville was able to control his lead and claim the final event of the World Rally Championship.
In a late, surreal twist, Toyota’s Jari-Matti Latvala slammed into the trees on the final stage whilst running second.
The Finn’s misfortune promoted Ford M-Sport’s Ott Tanak to second in a Fiesta, 22.5sec adrift of Neuville while Hayden Paddon (Hyundai) collected a welcome end-of-season bonus when he claimed an unlikely third just under a minute back from his team-mate.
Recently crowned five-times champion Sebastien Ogier (M-Sport) finished fourth after topping the Sunday Power Stage run in fine conditions after torrential rain earlier that day.
Rally Australia was always destined to be little more than a championship victory parade for Ogier, who had nothing on the line other than pride. His was a fairly lacklustre three days at the wheel, not helped by Friday’s road-sweeping job which left him too far back to fully recover.
Still to indicate his plans for 2018, Ogier was perhaps also distracted by conjecture over his future. His options appear to be these; re-sign with M-Sport (money may be an issue), or have a gap year, or retire.
Hyundai’s 2017 part-timer Andreas Mikkelsen dominated the opening day but unluckily scored two punctures in one untidy slide through a right hander. That left last year’s Rally Australia winner and this year’s leader stranded and out of business. Two wrecked tyres; one spare.
Neuville then seized his chance to consolidate second place in the championship. By rights the Belgian should have been fighting for the title but inconsistency left the pre-season favourite with fewer points than Ogier, but twice as many victories (for versus two).
Arguably, the Hyundai i20 was the best weapon in the 2017 WRC but the drivers didn’t always do it justice. Surely, Neuville and Mikkelsen (next year a full-time driver with the South Korean car maker) can shape up to the Ford, Toyota and Citroen squads.
Hyundai looks to retain Paddon and Dani Sordo, who’ll share a third i20. Once touted a future world champion, Paddon has endured an awful, inconsistent year but said in Coffs that he may have found something to put him back in contention in 2018.
Toyota will keep Latvala and the still-learning Esapekka Lappi, and add Ott Tanak, who is leaving Ford’s M-Sport after four seasons.
Citroen, after showing some interest in Ogier, now looks set to retain its Irish incumbents Kris Meeke and Craig Breen.
Rally Australia has been retained on the WRC calendar next year, but it is an ongoing fight to keep the local round on the beautiful Coffs coast. Great rally roads endorsed by the visiting drivers, and spectacular coastal and forestry scenery are beamed to the world on WRC television are positives, as is the economic benefit to the area and the state. But is this enough?
The fee charged by the WRC promoter has risen alarmingly and criticism won’t go away that the event is staged too far away from Sydney. Countering this…where near to the capital are there rally roads anywhere near as good as those around Coffs?
Heartening for the Coffs organisers, this year’s event attracted record crowds over the weekend, and the spectators were rewarded with some stunning action from the sport’s best in their new-era World Rally Cars.
ARC: Quinn wins Aussie rally title in decade-old entry
And in local news…
After years of trying, larrikin Coffs local Nathan Quinn has taken out the national championship, the final round of which was run in conjunction with the WRC.
The battler won fair and square in a 10-year-old Mitsubishi Evo IX held together with race tape and hope after the series leader and only rival for the crown, defending champion Molly Taylor, had the heartache of serious engine dramas late on Saturday.
Despite the best efforts of the Les Walkden Rallying mechanics who toiled late into Saturday night to repair damage incurred by turbo failure, the production class WRX STI failed to make it past the morning’s first control point, prematurely ending the final title tilt.
The emotional Quinn, 31, was almost speechless when interviewed after the fine stage, but managed to blurt out his thanks to his parents for their support.
A more composed Quinn later revealed that it was only an off-hand comment by fellow driver Eli Evans that made him register for this year’s Australian Rally Championship.
“Eli Evans said ‘Quinny, you never know, you should just register for the championship’. So I borrowed 1500 bucks off my girlfriend. Then Neal Bates Motorsport helped me get to Perth. Then there was a bunch of Irish lads that chipped in for a new engine.
“We could not have asked for a better year in terms of support and here we are now. It was an unfortunate problem for Molly (Taylor) but a miracle for us.”
Taylor, though gutted, said she and the team would bounce back next season. “In the end what happened was something that we couldn’t control. It makes us hungrier for next year, we want this more than anything.”
WEC: Toyota denies Porsche one last win
Porsche won the qualifying battle over Toyota but the Japanese giant prevented a farewell triumph for the exiting German marque in the Six Hours of Bahrain, the final (ninth) round of the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship.
Toyota overturned the Porsche LPMP team’s edge in qualifying with the #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid of Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima winning by more than a lap.
Victory for the #8 drivers marked the first time since 1990 that a car crew has won five races during a season of WEC or its predecessor, the World Sportscar Championship.
But this wasn’t enough to win the drivers’ championship for Buemi and his cohorts – that honour was clinched earlier by the regulars in the Porsche #2 , Brendon Hartley, Earl Bamber and Timo Bernhard, who finished second in Bahrain.
The winning trio powered to the lead in the first half an hour, with the pole winning #1 919 Hybrid of Neel Jani/Andre Lotterer/Nick Tandy keeping the pressure on
When the Bernhard/Bamber/Hartley was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop, Toyota appeared to be heading for a one-two. This prospect was scuppered though when Kamui Kobayashi in the #7 Toyota collided with a GT car and had to make a lengthy stop for repairs.
This put Porsche back into second and third spots and conclude the Stuttgart firm’s final title-winning season in world class prototype racing with two cars on the podium.
With the 2017 championship over, the focus is already on the future and proposed new LMP prototype regulations which the WEC senses might attract more manufacturers to the series.
One of the options receiving support for 2020/21 and beyond are regs that would give manufacturers the chance to give their prototypes the outward look of a high-performance sports car.
There are reports that McLaren has a "strong interest" in potential WEC rules that would allow it to style a future LMP1 contender on its exotic high-performance road cars. Makes obvious marketing sense.
"We like lots of what they [WEC and Le Mans race organisers] are saying: with the budgets and the level of technology they are talking, it's heading in a direction that means there is a strong interest on our part," Brown told Autosport.
Brown said that he would love to see the marque back at Le Mans, a race it won with the F1 GTR supercar in 1995.
Should McLaren decide to build a car capable of winning Le Mans outright, it would give Fernando Alonso the chance to chase one leg of the motorsport triple crown with his regular employer.
But with nothing firm, Alonso instead arranged to drive a Toyota TS050D in yesterday’s official WEC rookie test in Bahrain. This move is part of the two-times f1 champion’s burning desire to win the triple crown – F1 (tick), Indy 500 and Le Mans.
“It was a great day,” reported Alonso after his first experience in a Le Mans prototype. He completed a total of 113 laps in the #8 car for a total of 611km.
“These cars are amazing to drive. They are very consistent throughout a stint which is a positive thing. I have wanted to test a car like this for a long time now and today I could achieve that so I am happy.”