SEBASTIEN OGIER ON THE BRINK OF A SIXTH WRC TITLE
With just one day to go, Sebastian Ogier looks set to take his sixth consecutive World Rally Championship in the final rally of the season in Australia. He entered the Rally holding a three point lead over championship rival Thierry Neuville and is currently in sixth place, over a minute down on rally leader Ott Tänak, but more importantly two positions above Thierry Neuville. The Frenchman played it cautiously on day two as the weather mixed things up whilst Ott Tänak went on full-out attack to attempt to salvage his chances of winning the 2018 World Rally Championship.
Changing conditions has shook up the rankings after two days, but it is currently a Toyota 1-2 with Latvala in P2, and it also seems that Toyota will be able to lock-up the manufacturers title, however Hayden Paddon, the Kiwi driving for Hyundai, managed to deal with the conditions well to close up to within four seconds of Jari-Matti Latvala with just Sunday remaining.
Here's a summary of what has happened on Saturday and Friday:
In the opening stages Mads Østberg of Citroen took the lead of the rally after taking the stage win on SS3. However it was very close behind, with Esapekka Lappi, Latvala, Breen, Paddon, Neuville, Tänak and Ogier barely separated by anything.
In the next three stages Østberg continued to hold a slender lead at the top over Latvala, just at six seconds. Craig Breen had now taken third place, but Kiwi Hayden Paddon was determined to finish his season with a high and was in fourth place after six stages.
But more importantly the championship battle was starting to take shape, with Sebastian Ogier being consistently finishing around 4th-6th, but more importantly Thierry Neuville was not able to match this, and after six stages the defending champion had a thirty second lead over the Belgium and three positions between the two championship rivals. Advantage Ogier.
The final two stages of Friday were won by Ogier and Tänak, but by the end of Friday it was a Citroen 1-2, with Østberg leading the way from his team-mate Craig Breen, a seven second advantage for the Norwegian.
Jari-Matti Latvala was consistently near the top throughout Friday and resided in third place, with Hayden Paddon and Ott Tänak not too far behind.
In the championship battle Ogier was still seventh with Neuville a dismal tenth. At this rate, Ogier would be the 2018 WRC Champion.
The opening stage was won by Hayden Paddon as he continued his campaign for a podium, and by the end of Stage 10 he was only 7.8 seconds behind leader Mads Ostberg. Meanwhile Latvala had taken second and Craig Breen hadn't been able to match the pace and had slipped down into fifth place, with Ott Tänak starting to turn up the engine after winning Stage 10. The Estonian was in fourth place at the time.
In these three stages Tänak continued his charge and with another two stage wins to his name, he was up to second place, but the leadership of the Rally had changed, with Jari-Matti Latvala taking the lead from Mads Østberg, who had slipped down to third place due to some mechanical problems.
By the end of Stage 13, the top four were just separated by twelve seconds, and any of them could have taken the lead. At this stage Ogier had nearly a minute between himself and Neuville, and a six points difference between them if the rally finished then, enough to secure the title without the power stage.
Stage 14, and on the 28.8KM long stage, Ott Tänak won it with a healthy advantage over team-mate Latvala, meaning he took the lead by eight tenths.
Stage 15, and another long one, this time 22KM. Ott Tänak finished that stage in second place behind team-mate Esapekka Lappi, but he extended his lead over Latvala, and Hayden Paddon had now taken third place away from Mads østberg, who was struggling with his Citroen.
However at this point the rain began to become a problem, with early-starters effectively having a dry run rather than a wet one, and this became evident on the final stages of Saturday.
Though the two stages were just 1.5KM long each, there were some big gains.
By the end of Saturday Ott Tänak held a healthy twenty-two second lead over his team-mate Latvala, who was one of the drivers who were susceptible to the rain. This mean't Hayden Paddon was able to close up to within four seconds of second place.
Mads Østberg was over three-quarters of a minute down on the lead in fourth place, with Esapekka Lappi close behind. In the championship battle Ogier was still in sixth place, with Neuville gaining a place, now in eighth position, but with a fifty second lead and only Sunday reamining, it looks like Sebastian Ogier will win the 2018 WRC title.
Here are the rally standings after SS18: