Neuville closes out dramatic Rally Australia win

2017-11-19 18:34:08
http://www.racer.com/component/flexicontent/502-rally/145853-neuville-closes-out-dramatic-rally-australia-win?Itemid=514
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Thierry Neuville clinched his fourth victory of the FIA World Rally Championship season, the Hyundai driver winning Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds. Last-minute drama struck for Jari-Matti Latvala when he went off in the final stage, elevating Ott Tanak into second with Hayden Paddon moving into a surprise podium position, again for Hyundai.

"This win is a special one – it goes to the whole team, they have worked so hard," said a delighted Neuville. "It wasn't always easy but we kept the motivation high. We round off the year with a win and second in the championship. Thanks to everyone in the team both here and at the factory, great job guys."

Neuville's win was enough to secure him second in the championship standings behind Sebastien Ogier. Tanak finished their best season to date third in the series. The manufacturers' championship was already wrapped up by M-Sport in Wales last time out, but Hyundai is confirmed as second with WRC returnees Toyota third and Citroen fourth.

In a change to the afternoon itinerary, the second passage of Pilbara Reverse was canceled. Monsoon-like rain during the morning made the road conditions too treacherous so the crews headed straight from service to the all-important Power Stage. Neuville's lead was sufficient to control the field and the Belgian was only eighth fastest through Wedding Bells – irrelevant in the face of his fourth win on three continents.

Latvala was on course to finish the season on a high in second position, but the Finn went off on a long left-hander and into the trees where his rally abruptly finished. Tanak therefore inherited second, took second in the Power Stage and claimed his eighth podium of the season in his last outing in the Fiesta WRC. Paddon was an unexpected third and the Kiwi is glad to put what has been a difficult season behind him.

Ogier eventually finished fourth and picked up maximum points on the Power Stage too. What the Frenchman plans for the 2018 season remains unknown: "For now I can only say that was my last stage for 2017," he said. "Now we look forward to the FIA Prize-Giving and collecting the trophy."

Elfyn Evans was unable to carry his Rally GB-winning pace onto the Australian gravel but the Welshman finished fifth ahead of Esapekka Lappi, who ended up the sole Toyota finisher. It was a steep learning curve for the Finn, power steering issues on the first day hampering his charge and then opening the road on Saturday and Sunday.

After retiring yesterday, Kris Meeke returned and finished seventh under Rally 2 regulations. Kalle Rovanpera, the sole FIA WRC 2 Championship contender, steered his Fiesta R5 through most of the rally, only missing last night's two super special stages. He finished 12th overall.

Ogier13AUS17cm058The dynamic new cars have been spectacular and sparked record attendances at events season-long in the WRC, and the return of Toyota further emphasized the dawn of a new era in world rallying. Competitively, the season has been the closest and most unpredictable in years, again underlining the success of the regulation changes. Seven different crews have stood on the top step of the podium over the 13 events, no fewer than three of them being rookie WRC winners, and each of the four manufacturers have scored at least two victories.

Ogier (above) may have clinched his fifth consecutive World Rally title, but it was no easy feat for the Frenchman who only won two events, a stark contrast to his domination of previous years. M-Sport, having taken five wins and had at least one car on the podium on every event, won its first manufacturers' title too, notwithstanding victories with Ford in 2006 and 2007. Beating three of the world's largest car companies was a remarkable achievement by the private British-based squad.

The 2018 FIA World Rally Championship kicks off with Rally Monte-Carlo on Jan. 25.

Rally Australia – Final Unofficial Results (subject to scrutineering)

1.   Thierry Neuville / Nicolas Gilsoul

Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

2hr 35min 44.8sec

2.   Ott Tanak / Martin Jarveoja

Ford Fiesta WRC

2hr 36min 07.3sec

3.   Hayden Paddon / Sebastian Marshall

Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

2hr 36min 43.9sec

4.   Sebastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia

Ford Fiesta WRC

2hr 38min 12.5sec

5.   Eflyn Evans / Daniel Barritt

Ford Fiesta WRC

2hr 38min 50.4sec

6.   Esapekka Lappi / Janne Ferm

Toyota Yaris WRC

2hr 39min 34.3sec

7.   Kris Meeke / Paul Nagle

Citroen C3 WRC

2hr 58min 43.2sec

8.   Nathan Quinn / Ben Searcy

Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX

3hr 00min 48.2sec

9.   Richie Dalton / John Allen

Skoda Fabia R5

3hr 01min 24.4sec

10. Dean Herridge / Samuel Hill

Subaru Impreza WRX STi

3hr 05min 37.1se

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