COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) — Sebastien Ogier won his sixth straight World Rally Championship after a final day of racing at Rally Australia ended the hopes of his only two challengers for the season title.
The Frenchman started a wet Sunday needing to hold his spot ahead of Thierry Neuville, while overnight rally leader Ott Tanak also remained with a chance of moving ahead of Ogier.
Instead it was that pair which failed to finish, with Neuville clipping a tree with three stages remaining and Tanak running off the road on the second-last stage.
Neither was able to recover, with the dual retirements assuring Ogier another title regardless of how he fares on the season’s final stage.
The 34-year-old Ogier sealed the title in fashion, though, blitzing the seven-kilometer Wedding Bells final stage to claim his only forest stage victory of the rally and five bonus points.
Toyota’s Jari-Matti Latvala claimed Rally Australia honors, beating New Zealand’s Hyundai driver Hayden Paddon by 32.5 seconds and securing his team their first manufacturers’ title since 1999. Ogier was fifth.
Three points behind Ogier ahead of Rally Australia, Neuville’s crash and blown tire on Friday cost him 40 seconds and proved to be the decisive margin before his retirement on Sunday.
Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia will join Citroen next year after two successful seasons with Ford and four with Volkswagen.
“The season was so intense and it just happened in between stages,” Ogier said. “I’m so proud of what we achieved, so proud of my team, you are the best. I enjoyed my last push in this car; I hope I will not miss it.”
Ogier finished the season with 219 points, with Neuville on 201 and Tanak 181.
The 24-stage Rally Australia over mostly forestry roads in northern New South Wales state covered 319 kilometers (197 miles).