After a long summer break, the WRC roars back into action in Finland. The usual suspects will be battling it out for the championship, whilst at Hyundai and M-Sport there are a couple of driver changes. Sadly, Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin will be sitting this one out after their heavy landing during Rally Estonia. In his place comes Gus Greensmith, getting his first outing in a full WRC car in Finland, and his second this year after Rally Portugal. Joining Malcolm’s team as well is Hayden Paddon, partnered by John Kennard. At Hyundai, Thierry and Andreas will be joined by Craig Breen, and co-driven by Paul Nagle. It will be interesting to see how Hayden and Craig get on in their new cars.
Meantime, the top three championship challengers are set to continue their battle for this year’s crown. Can Thierry fight for the podium this year. I’d say that he does need to finish ahead of both Ott and Seb, but will his car allow him to do this? We know how effective Ott and his Yaris have become. Citroen contested Rally Estonia as a test bed for this event. Did they find anything that will help them in Finland? They have made some changes to the front of the car, and in particular the axle. After testing, it seems to have improved the car. Kris Meeke has won this event, with Paul Nagle, and it will be interesting if he can score that first podium of the year.
I held a Twitter poll asking for the votes for fans to vote for the driver most likely to win. Here’s the result.
Teemu will be leading the M-Sport challenge, and he is more than capable of setting great times, meaning that he could well be standing on the podium. Jari-Matti will be hoping for a great event in his Yaris as well. Two years ago, he was leading and pulling away from then teammate Esapekka Lappi, before reliability problems struck and put him out. Lappi then went on to win.
Okay, lets take a look at the stages that make up this year’s event. A total of 307.58 km makes this year’s event.
THURSDAY 1 AUGUST
9.00am: Shakedown Vesala (4,26 km)
6.37pm: Start (Jyväskylä Paviljonki)
7.00pm: SS 1 – Harju 1 (2,31 km)
7.20pm: Parc ferme
FRIDAY 2 AUGUST
6.40am: Start & service A (Jyväskylä Paviljonki – 15 mins)
8.18am: SS 2 – Oittila (19,34 km)
9.21am: SS 3 – Moksi 1 (20,04 km)
10.24am: SS 4 – Urria 1 (12,28 km)
11.16am: SS 5 – Ässämäki 1 (12,33 km)
12.39pm: SS 6 – Äänekoski 1 (7,80 km)
1.56pm: Service B (Jyväskylä Paviljonki – 40 mins)
3.24pm: SS 7 – Moksi 2 (20,04 km)
4.27pm: SS 8 – Urria 2 (12,28 km)
5.19pm: SS 9 – Ässämäki 2 (12,33 km)
6.42pm: SS 10 – Äänekoski 2 (7,80 km)
8.00pm: SS 11 – Harju 2 (2,31 km)
8.30pm: Flexi service C (Jyväskylä Paviljonki – 45 mins)
SATURDAY 3 AUGUST
6.25am: Start & service D (Jyväskylä Paviljonki – 15 mins)
8.08am: SS 12 – Pihlajakoski 1 (14,42 km)
9.10am: SS 13 – Päijälä 1 (22,87 km)
10.08am: SS 14 – Kakaristo 1 (18,70 km)
11.34am: SS 15 – Leustu 1 (10,50 km)
1.00pm: Service E (Jyväskylä Paviljonki – 40 mins)
3.08pm: SS 16 – Pihlajakoski 2 (14,42 km)
4.10pm: SS 17 – Päijälä 2 (22,87 km)
5.08pm: SS 18 – Kakaristo 2 (18,70 km)
6.34pm: SS 19 – Leustu 2 (10,50 km)
7.47pm: Flexi service F (Jyväskylä Paviljonki – 45 mins)
SUNDAY 4 AUGUST
7.30am: Start & service G (Jyväskylä Paviljonki – 15 mins)
8.38am: SS 20 – Laukaa 1 (11,75 km)
9.38am: SS 21 – Ruuhimäki 1 (11,12 km)
11.01am: SS 22 – Laukaa 2 (11,75 km)
1.18pm: SS 23 – Ruuhimäki 2 Power Stage (11,12 km)
2.21pm: Service H (Jyväskylä Paviljonki – 10 mins)
Let’s hear from the drivers then!
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
“I’m really looking forward to getting the second part of the season started on Rally Finland. It’s a rally that I enjoy a lot with the fast and smooth roads, and it was an incredible feeling to win last year. Of course, we will try to achieve the same result this year, but it looks as though it will be more difficult, as we will be running first on the road on the Friday. Two weeks ago, we took part in Rally Estonia and it was great to win the rally again in front of so many fans, but it was also a really good test for Rally Finland. I believe that we learned a lot, so I’m feeling well-prepared.”
“I’ve had a good summer break and I’m feeling ready to restart the season on Rally Finland. I tried to have some time away from rallying, but we also had a couple of days of testing to prepare for this event, and it’s always enjoyable to be back driving on fast gravel roads here in Finland. These are the roads where I feel at home, and I always get a lot positive support during the week of the rally. Last year, it’s where our season took a more positive turn with a podium finish and I hope we can do similar this time. The speed is there on gravel, we know that from the last few events, so now we just need to try and secure a good result.”
“Rally Finland is definitely one of my favourite events with some special memories for me, and I’m really looking forward to taking it on with the Yaris WRC. Finland is where I got my first taste of this car, and we tested there again last week, and the car always feels incredible to drive on those roads. It was developed in Finland and we’ve seen in the last two years just how strong it can be on this rally. I think that everyone in the team is feeling confident about the second part of the season, and hopefully we can kick-start that with a great result in Finland. I’m going to be at a bit of a disadvantage because a lot of the route will be new for me, but I’m ready for the challenge.”
Citroën Total WRT
“This rally, contested pretty much in the back yard of one of our main competitors, is set to be a serious challenge. But I was able to recharge my batteries during the summer break and I feel fresh. As usual, I’m ready to put up a fight. With the high speeds on the stages, this is definitely a rally where you need to be completely at one with your car in order to really go for it and I have to say that I finished my two days of testing with a good feeling in the C3 WRC. The upgrade introduced at this round means we’ll have better options in terms of set-up for the rest of the season.”
“After getting our bearings at high speed in Estonia, we were able to fine-tune the basic set-up during the test day held afterwards in Finland. We had increased grip and the handling of the C3 WRC was further improved. This event is obviously something special for all of us. The main thing is to enjoy it, and if I can do that, then the result will come naturally. In any case, I feel confident and I’m determined to do my best.”
“Finland is a challenging event, and one I enjoy driving. You have a lot of good sensations in the car and a lot of adrenaline, especially after the huge jumps. It’s what we drivers really love and I’m hoping it will be a good event for our team this year, as we aim to defend our manufacturers’ position. We are also only seven points from first place in the drivers’ championship, and our aim is to close that gap even further in Finland.”
“The road profiles in Finland are so different to any other rally: the surface is really hard. A lot of the roads are quite wide and it’s very fast with a lot of blind crests and jumps, so you have to be very committed and trust your pace notes. When you feel comfortable there, it’s the most beautiful rally in the world – but if you don’t, it’s the worst place on earth. We want to be back fighting at the front of the pack, just as we were in Sardinia.”
“Rally Finland is very close to my heart. It’s the event I’ve done the most and this year marks ten years since I first competed there. I have a lot of amazing memories from the start of my career and my first podium there in 2016. It’s a rally I always enjoy with fast roads and flying in the forests. I’m really looking forward to it this year in the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC.”
“The summer break was long – really long – and I can’t wait to get back in the rally car. Rally Finland is one of my favourites and there is something special about rallying at home – so of course I want to do well there.
I would say that I’m in a better pace this year than I was last year, and my experience is on a level now where I can compete for the good results. We had a good two-day test last week and the car feels a lot more competitive than it was 12 months ago.
But of course, our rivals will also have made some steps forward and we need to stay realistic. Last year I finished sixth, so my aim is to at least do one better than that.”
“I want to wish Elfyn a full and speedy recovery. These aren’t the circumstances in which we wanted to be back behind the wheel of the World Rally Car, but it’s the cards we’ve been dealt and I’m really proud that M-Sport and Ford saw us as the best crew for the job.
Rally Finland gives you so much satisfaction behind the wheel, and I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like with the Fiesta WRC – this rally and this car blow my mind every time!
We had a strong debut in Portugal, but there are still many aspects we need to improve and Finland will be an even bigger challenge. I tend to go quite well on the faster rallies, and if we can make a good step forward, I’ll be happy.
I had six months to prepare for Portugal, but for Finland it was more like six hours! I got the call and was on my way to the test the very next day. It was total madness, but I felt really comfortable really quickly. The test team did a fantastic job and I think we’ve got a competitive package for the rally.
But I’ll still need to take the, ‘don’t run before you can walk,’ attitude into next week. I’ve proved my potential, but the reality is that there is a mountain to climb before I’ll be in a position to challenge for the podium. I know that, and I need to get as much experience as possible under my belt.”
“We’re really eager to get underway at Rally Finland. It’s been a long time away, and we’re looking forward to getting back in the car. Everyone at M-Sport has been really accommodating and I’ve been in the workshop this week – getting used to the car and the team before taking to the wheel for the first time at the test on Monday.
It’s going to be an enjoyable rally, and we need to enjoy it first and foremost. But at the same time, we’re not just here to make up the numbers. We want to make the most of the opportunity, and naturally want to be competitive.
We still need keep our expectations in check – we’ve been out of the game for eight months and that could make it quite hard to bridge the gap. But I’m sure we’ll be able to build our speed as the rally progresses, and if the feeling is there from the start then John and I have the experience and the confidence to be mixing it at the top.
All of the ingredients for a good rally are there, and we hope to put all the pieces of the puzzle together for a good result next week.”
We are set then for an amazing rally. Just six rounds left to decide the championship. Will Ott be able to win, even though he’ll be opening the road throughout Friday’s stages? Well, with possible rain during the afternoon on the first day, this could help him.
This was the year that this team came closest to winning both the drivers and manufacturers. It didn’t work out in the end though. The team led both championships at certain points, but ultimately fell short. Here’s how the season went for this team in their fifth season.
Monte Carlo day one saw Thierry slide wide and lose a lot of time, finishing seventeen overall after Thursday. Andreas and Dani went well though and were second and third, less than 30 seconds from the leader. After Friday’s stages, Dani was still in third, whilst Thierry had improved to ninth. Andreas had retired after a problem with his car after the first stage of the morning loop. On Saturday, Dani’s good work came undone in stage nine when he slid wide into a ditch and had to retire from the event. Thierry had now climbed into seventh overall. Onto Sunday then and Thierry climbed a further two places by the end of the day’s action, into fifth place. The team could count that as a good result, after their troubles earlier in the weekend, and I think it’s fair to say that without his problems and subsequent pace, that Thierry would have made it onto the podium.
Moving onto Rally Sweden and with Thierry, Andreas and Hayden driving, the team had gone for its strongest line up. Boy, did it work! Thierry led a one-two-three, with Andreas in second and Hayden third at the end of day one. Thierry maintained a good lead at the end of Saturday’s stages, with Andreas and Hayden having fallen to third and fourth. Sunday saw Thierry take victory for the team, their first victory in this event, whilst Andreas picked up third place and a spin for Hayden saw the Kiwi fall to fifth place. Thierry’s victory moved him into the championship lead as well, eleven points ahead of Seb.
The following event, Rally Mexico, would be a completely different challenge of course! Joining Thierry and Andreas for this round would be Dani Sordo. He would be the early leader as well at the end of the Friday’s stages, with Andreas and Thierry in sixth and seventh respectively. The Belgian crew suffered with some technical problems, restricting their ultimate pace as well as being the first car on the road because of the championship positions. At the end of Saturday, Dani had fallen to third place after getting a puncture, whilst Andreas had moved up to fourth and Thierry was sixth after a stall and two punctures. Sunday saw Dani complete a good drive to second overall, whilst Andreas and Thierry finished in fourth and sixth. Seb moved back into the championship lead, with Thierry now four points behind.
Next up was the twists and turns of Tour de Corse! Dani started his third event of the year, lining up with Thierry and Andreas. At the end of day one, Thierry held second overall, thirty seconds behind Seb. Dani held seventh, after struggling with the handling of the car, whilst Andreas suffered an off and a spin and held ninth. At the end of day two, Thierry had fallen behind a fast charging Ott, but remained in the hunt for second place. After making some changes to their cars, Dani and Andreas both improved their positions to fifth and eighth. On the final day Thierry couldn’t catch Ott, and this meant he’d finish in third, whilst Dani was fourth and Andreas seventh. It was a troubling event for the Norwegian, where he was not on the pace.
With a starting line-up the same as the previous round, there was some consistency for the team for Rally Argentina, and after the first day Thierry, Dani and Andreas were in third, fourth and seventh. Andreas had led early on, but unfortunately a puncture put him out of the battle for the lead. After Saturday’s stages, each driver had moved up the standings, with Thierry and Dani holding second and third, whilst Andreas had moved into fifth overall after making some changes to the car which helped give him confidence. On the final day, the team secured a double podium, the second in a row whilst Andreas finished in fifth after a battle with Ogier who finished a few seconds ahead. The team had increased it’s lead in the manufacturer’s championship, whilst Thierry had reduced Ogier’s championship lead to just ten points.
Three weeks later, it was time for Rally de Portugal! Alongside Thierry and Andreas and Dani, Hayden Paddon would return to the team for this event. After day one, when the team took six stage victories Thierry held an almost twenty second lead over Elfyn, and Dani was also doing well, holding third. Sadly, Hayden and Andreas they would not finish the day. Andreas suffered some technical problems firstly with his powersteering and then oil pressure problems. Hayden went off the road unfortunately, after avoiding a rock that was hidden. The Kiwi wouldn’t restart as a precaution, after he and Seb were taken to hospital. Following Saturday’s stages, Thierry was holding a thirty-nine second lead over Elfyn, with Dani holding third after another good day for the Spaniard. Thierry continued his consistent pace through Sunday’s stages to take his second victory of the season and thus took the championship lead from Seb Ogier. Dani lost his third place due to a time penalty, which was gained after the final stage of Saturday, but fought back to within 13 seconds of third place, ultimately finishing in fifth. Andreas’ problems on Friday kept him in the lower parts of the standings, finishing in sixteenth place.
The following event, Rally Italia Sardegna saw Hayden, Thierry and Andreas line up, whilst Dani would sit this one out. Rain on day one helped championship leader Thierry, finish day one 18 seconds from Seb Ogier who led this event. Kiwi, Hayden tried lots of things to get on the pace, but just struggled, whilst Andreas saw his hopes for a good result disappear (he was the early leader), after his car developed a transmission issue, leaving it stuck in reverse. Day two saw Thierry close on the Frenchman for the lead after he took three stage victories, closing to just 3.9 seconds of the M-Sport driver, whilst Hayden improved to fourth overall. Andreas re-joined the action and set some good times, but was rueing the problems on Friday. The final day saw Thierry snatch victory from Seb in the final stage, winning by just seven tenths of a second and he also took the maximum power stage points too! Hayden completed the event in fourth place, having increased his lead over Mads throughout the day and Andreas took fourth in the power stage and two points.
After the summer break, the team came to Rally Finland and were leading both championships for drivers/co-drivers and team by a big margin. The drivers lining up were Thierry, Andreas and Hayden. This event had not been kind to Hyundai in the past. It would prove to be the same again, after Thierry, who was opening the road, was struggling for grip and then went off into a ditch during stage five finishing the day in tenth. Andreas made a mistake too, after a misheard note sent him into a small low speed roll and also a penalty after checking in late after lunchtime service. Best placed driver was Hayden, who finished day one in fourth. After Saturday’s stages, Hayden, who had driven consistently well, finished in fifth place, having been passed by 2017 winner Lappi. The Kiwi was just nine seconds from the Finn. Sadly, Thierry was still in tenth overall, after being second on the road, rueing the troubles from Friday and thus a poor starting position on Saturday. Andreas moved closer to the top ten, finishing in eleventh. The final day saw Hayden move into fourth, after Lappi went off the road. This also saw Thierry and Andreas move up a place, with the Belgian completing the event in ninth and Andreas getting tenth.
Next up was the all tarmac event of Rally Germany. Dani re-joined Thierry and Andreas. A good day one saw Thierry hold third overall behind his championship rivals, whilst Dani was sixth and Andreas ninth. The Norwegian was trying to change his driving style, but was struggling. Day two saw Dani take three stage victories and moved up into second, with Thierry now fourth after struggling with car handling and a better day for Andreas saw him move up into sixth. The last day saw Thierry finish in second, despite a mistake in the power stage. Dani’s hopes of a good result ended when he went and crashed his car into the vineyards that line the stages. Meanwhile, Andreas finished in sixth.
The return of Rally Turkey to the championship saw a completely new event for all the drivers. Hayden joined Thierry and Andreas. Day one saw Thierry hold an unexpected lead over Seb, despite opening the road. Andreas also had a good day too, holding third, just 2.6 from the lead, whilst Hayden was further back in sixth place. The stages got rougher, not smoother after each car. A dramatic Saturday saw Thierry retire from the lead, after his suspension broke and came through his bonnet! Then Andreas took the lead, only then the suffer from driveshaft failure, leaving him with only rear-wheel drive and struggling for pace therefore, but he was still in fifth place. Through all of this came Hayden finishing the day in third place after a considered drive in the exceptionally rough stages. The final day saw Hayden finish in third, taking his first podium of the year after a very good drive. Andreas finished in fifth, whilst Thierry struck back, taking the power stage win and was now holding a lead of 13 points from Ott who had passed Ogier in the championship.
Wales Rally GB followed, and was much earlier in the championship. Hayden once again was in the line-up with Thierry and Andreas. After Friday, Thierry held second place, from Ott. The Belgian had found the morning stages tricky, what with opening the road and his car not giving him that much confidence, but things improved in the afternoon. Hayden held seventh place, after sliding off briefly in one of the morning stages, whilst Andreas was all at sea, struggling with his car, and unable to set any good times. Saturday, saw a big twist in the championship! Second placed Thierry lost control of his car in the second stage of the day, and lost loads of time and places, falling to ninth, whilst Andreas found some improvements and moved up to sixth after winning three stages. Hayden drove well too, and was seventh. Thierry did improve by the end of the day, finishing in eighth, but was rueing his mistake, as without it, he would have been leading the event. The final day saw the drivers secure fifth, sixth and seventh, with Thierry leading home Andreas and Hayden.
Rally Spain followed and Dani re-joined the team for his last event of the year. At the end of Friday, Dani held a very strong second overall, whilst Andreas was sixth. As championship leader, Thierry opened the road and struggled with the gravel stages, completing the day in ninth. After day two, Thierry moved up into fifth, courtesy of two fastest stage times. Dani took the lead briefly, before falling behind in trickier conditions in the afternoon, ultimately completing the day in sixth, but still in touch. Andreas had an even worse day though, dropping down the order to tenth. Rain on the final morning stages changed things a bit, but ultimately when the stages dried out in time for the rerun, the finishing positions were Thierry in fourth, Dani sixth and Andreas tenth. Thierry was only half a second behind finishing on the podium, and was now three points behind Ogier in their championship battle.
It was the last round and both championships were up for grabs. The gap between Seb and Thierry was very small, whilst the gap between Hyundai and Toyota was twelve points. Hayden would start as well, looking to support Thierry with his championship bid in this title decider! After day one, Hayden was the best placed of the three crews, despite tyre coming off the rim on a jump, completing the day in fourth, just a few seconds behind third. Thierry had a mixed day, winning stage five and then also after a tyre came off having landed heavily from a jump in stage six and dropping to tenth. Andreas had another bad day, after having to avoid a tractor which was repositioning some bales for the chicane in stage six, he then went off and had to retire for the day. Hayden’s weekend got better on Saturday, as he took two stage victories and moved up into third overall. With Thierry second on the road, he’d struggle to set the stages on fire, and completed the day in eighth, whilst Andreas who was opening the road continued to struggle, and was way down the order, after having to re-join under Rally2. The last day saw Hayden take the teams eleventh podium and his second of the year. Sadly, there was no championship success for either the team or Thierry, who retired from the event after clipping a tree, thus breaking his suspension. Andreas finished in eleventh place.
Summing up the year for this team, they took three victories and led both championships for long periods as well but fell short in the end. Looking at the season, I’d say their bid for the titles started to unravel at Rally Finland, where they just were not on the pace. Thierry made his best bid to be champion though, and for him, the bid ended in Wales, when he slid off the road, losing 40 seconds. As we know, Seb Ogier came through to win there and put him in a good position in the end.
Andreas Mikkelsen’s season peaked in Rally Sweden and from there, what with reliability problems and lack of pace elsewhere he didn’t really shine. He will be under pressure to deliver in 2019.
Dani Sordo and Hayden Paddon did well with their part-seasons. The Spaniard showed good pace even leading some events, and that is why he has a deal for 2019.
However, despite Hayden picking up two podiums, after good drives in Turkey and Australia, he was only offered a single event. Very odd, considering Thierry and him are the only drivers to have won for the team
In the off season, we’ve found out that Seb Loeb will be driving for the team, signed to do six rounds per year in the next two years. The other news is that Andrea Adamo has become Team Director, after Michel Nandan stepped down from the team and company.
The decider down under had it all! Here’s the story of how the title was won, while Jari-Matti took victory!
Shakedown took place on Thursday, with these results.
Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) 2:53.8
Mikkelsen / Jaeger (Hyundai i20 WRC) 2:54.0
Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2:54.0
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) 2:54.1
Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) 2:54.6
Paddon / Marshall (Hyundai i20 WRC) 2:54.7
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2:54.9
Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2:55.0
Suninen / Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) 2:55.1
Evans / Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) 2:55.2
Østberg / Eriksen (Citroën C3 WRC) 2:55.4
There would be 52km’s of stages on Friday with runs through Orara East, Coldwater and Sherwood run twice and a double run of Destination NSW spectator special at the end of the day. There were rumours of rain developing adding to the anticipation. The start list looked like this – Ogier, Neuville, Tänak, Lappi, Latvala, Mikkelsen, Evans, Breen, Paddon, Suninen, Ostberg, Serderidis. There would be a service break after the first three stages.
With Seb opening the road, he was hoping it would rain, thus giving him an advantage. However, this didn’t happen. The rain did arrive, but only in the service park, thus not affecting the stages.
The short SS1, Orara East stage, saw Esapekka go fastest, and therefore lead from his Toyota teammates, Ott and Jari-Matti. On such a short stage, Ogier was not losing too much time, completing the stage just 2.6 seconds slower in eighth place, just half a second behind Thierry who held fifth place. Craig Breen hit a kangaroo, but the car wasn’t badly damaged, allowing him to continue.
The longer SS2, 14km Coldwater stage would shake things up a bit more with the rain holding off. It was certainly very dry out there, and starting to warm up too as the final cars completed. Jari-Matti took the stage victory and moved into a shared lead with his younger teammate, Esapekka. Craig said his car was understeering, but he still was on the move up the leaderboard anyway, moving to sixth from eleventh. Meanwhile, Mads was just 2.4 seconds behind the overall leaders. Those to lose time were Ogier, who fell to eleventh, but still keeping Thierry in sight who was one place ahead.
The final stage before service, SS3 Sherwood, at 26km’s did see some drama! Sixth on the road, Andreas came across a tractor on the stage, and whilst taking avoiding action, crashed out damaging his radiator and putting him out for the rest of the day. Now there has been a lot of debate as to why it was there. One thing I know, is that it was there to help manage the chicane that was in this stage. Anyway, the stage was won by Mads and Craig was second fastest despite believing he had a cracked brake disc, and this speed moved him up to fourth! The top two in the championship were rounding out the top ten.
After service, the re-run of Orara East, SS4, was won by Ott, thus moving the Estonian into fourth overall. Ogier also went well, setting the third fastest time and keeping Thierry insight. Mads was still leading overall, now 4.5 seconds ahead of Lappi.
It was all change in Coldwater, SS5. Thierry won the stage and moved up to seventh place overall, almost ten seconds ahead of Ogier. Lappi lost time, dropping almost 23 seconds and falling to ninth. Our top three was now Mads, Jari-Matti and Ott.
There was more drama in the longer SS6, Sherwood stage though! After setting the fastest time, Craig moved up to third from fifth, now just 7.5 seconds from the lead that Mads still had. However, it was one of the championship contenders that suffered misfortune. Thierry had a tyre come off after landing from a jump, losing close to a minute and severely denting his hopes of winning the championship as he was now thirty seconds behind Ogier.
After the double run in the spectator friendly stage, Destination NSW, which completed the first days action, the only change in the leaderboard was that Craig had brought himself into second overall, giving Citroen a one-two at the end of the first day.
Here’s the day one standings then.
Ostberg / Eriksen (Citroën C3 WRC) 53:37.4
Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) +6.8
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +8.7
Paddon / Marshall (Hyundai i20 WRC) +12.5
Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +16.9
Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +28.3
Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +38.2
Evans / Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +45.2
Suninen / Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) +47.2
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:11.9
Here’s the drivers views then….
“I thought I would need time to get used to the car again, having not driven it since Wales but I felt confident in the car very quickly. I gradually got my bearings again and adjusted my driving stage by stage. In the end, I really enjoyed it. For sure, we pushed but without risking everything. Obviously, we are right in the mix and I’m really determined to stay there!”
“Other than the first stage of the loop, where I wasn’t quite on it a couple of times, I had a good opening leg. We were right on the pace all day, which you can see with our win on the longest stage. Importantly, that helped us to gain a place in tomorrow’s running order. I can’t wait to get out there again, because the second leg looks like it will be the best day of the weekend!”
“Today has mostly been very good. This morning I did some mistakes and lost a little bit of time, but in the afternoon loop in the forest stages I was really satisfied with how it went: the driving was very consistent and clean. I did lose some time on the super specials, as I had the hard tyres and I was missing some traction. Still, everything remains close and tomorrow we will have a good road position, which is going to be important.”
Hayden Paddon (4th)
“We have had a nice clean day and find ourselves involved in a close fight at the front. The feeling inside the car has been pretty good on all stages. I have spent Friday just trying to get the natural rhythm back, learning to push in the car and gaining confidence. Our approach was right. We had an issue midway through the afternoon when a tyre came off the rim; we were forced to use a worn soft tyre for the second run through Sherwood. I was surprised not to lose more time than we did. We can definitely go faster, and we have to keep pushing for the team. There’s no other option.”
Thierry Neuville (10th)
“We can’t lose our hopes despite what’s happened. It’s still only the first day and although our championship chances are now reduced, we don’t know what’s going to happen over the next two days. It had been going quite well. Even from second on the road this morning, the cleaning was huge and our aim was just to stay in front of Sébastien, which we were able to do. A stage win in the afternoon was nice but then, in SS6, we were on a long right-hander with a few bumps, and on the landing of a jump we took the tyre from the rim, which lost us a lot of time. We will continue to drive and see where we end up on Sunday.”
Andreas Mikkelsen (Retired/Rally2)
“What happened today pretty much sums up my season, to be honest. We approached a crest and saw a marshal waving us down. Anders told me to stop so I slowed right down and saw a tractor driving out of the chicane. We kept going but my head was in a different place rather than the pace-notes that were coming up and we went off. I am disappointed and angry. This situation has destroyed a really important rally for us, and it should never have happened. It’s a shame because we were feeling comfortable and doing well up to that point. We will be back on Saturday but there’s not much we can do now.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Ott Tänak (5th)
“Overall, the morning loop was good and we were in a nice rhythm. This afternoon there were some mistakes from my side, which I cannot be happy about. On the first stage of the afternoon loop I hit a gate, which did some damage to our suspension. Then on the second stage, in a big watersplash we lost the front bumper so we had a lot less aero than usual. The car wasn’t easy to drive but we did all we could, and we are still in the game and everything is possible.”
Esapekka Lappi (6th)
“Everything went really well and smoothly this morning. I was quite surprised: I expected to lose more time as we were running quite early on the road. Unfortunately, one watersplash this afternoon ruined our day. I tried to approach it the same as I did on the first pass, but it didn’t work out at all. We lost a lot of time but thankfully we could continue. I have been really enjoying the driving and everything on the car is working nicely, so I am looking forward to tomorrow.”
M-Sport Ford WRT
Sébastien Ogier (7th)
“Every stage has been like a Power Stage for us today. Opening the road is really tough here and we had to push really hard through every stage. It’s always a little frustrating when you’re not in a position to fight for the top results, but that’s the way it is.”
“Unlike our rivals, we didn’t make any mistakes and we’re in a good position for the championship which is the main objective this weekend. A big thanks to my team mates also for their help this afternoon which should make our road position better for tomorrow.”
Elfyn Evans (8th)
“We focused on delivering a clean and tidy drive through today’s stages. The competition was really close and I think we did a pretty good job – not far from the lead before the last gravel stage of the day.”
“But this is a team sport as well as an individual one and we had to play our part to give Seb the best possible position going into the weekend. We’re all competitors and we all want to compete, but we’re also here to do a job for the team and we have to respect that.”
Teemu Suninen (9th)
“I think we’ve had a good day. The pace has been good and we were able to improve a lot over the second pass – just 0.1 seconds away from a stage win on the middle one this afternoon [SS5]. On the next stage we had to give the position to Seb, but that’s part of the game – he’s fighting for the championship and we need to play our part to help him.”
Day two would see the crews tackle much more stages, adding up to 133km’s of action. The starting line up looked like this – Serderidis, Neuville, Evans, Suninen, Ogier, Lappi, Tänak, Paddon, Breen, Latvala, Ostberg, Mikkelsen.
A much longer day featured four stages run in the morning, with the loop repeated in the afternoon and then a double run at the end of the day in the spectator friendly stage.
Into SS9, Argents Hill Reverse then, quite literally run in the opposite direction to last year and Hayden started well, winning it from Latvala and Andreas. Craig dropped behind Jari-Matti who was now Mads closest rival for the lead. Thierry was also finding things hard, second on the road again and losing more time to Ogier.
The second stage of the day, SS10, Welshs Creek reverse was won by Ott from Latvala and Hayden. Mads lead was reduced by a little over three seconds and he revealed that he was not happy with his tyre choice. Meantime, Craig was suffering from a throttle that was sticking open when he was on the brakes, making the car push on and very tricky to drive indeed, and he dropped to fifth overall! Hayden moved into third as a result of this. Ogier was still in the box seat for the championship, with Thierry now 43 seconds behind the Frenchman.
Onto SS11, Urunga. It was all change in this one. Mads lost 13 and a half seconds, falling from the lead, to third overall. Those to benefit were Jari-Matti and Ott who were now first and second respectively. The gap widened even further for Thierry, now almost fifty seconds from Seb in tenth. Craig was suffering with his tyres and this led to a spin, which then resulted in damage to his left rear suspension.
SS12, so named Raleigh, saw Elfyn and Ott share honours with the fastest time. Breen however picked up a time penalty after arriving late for the stage. He and Scott worked on their car between the stages, fixing the broken suspension as best they could and they were now in tenth place.
After service, came the second run of Argents Hill, SS13, which saw Hayden take another stage victory, thus consolidating fourth overall and keeping him and Seb Marshall close to the podium positions, with Mads in third still, only three seconds ahead of the Kiwi. Thierry needed a mistake from Ogier to bring himself back into the fight, but it was hard to see him taking the title now. In fact, Ott had a more realistic chance given how close he was to the leader, who was his teammate, Jari-Matti.
The longer Welshs Creek followed, SS14, and Ott moved ahead of Jari-Matti into the lead. Also, on the move was Thierry who moved ahead of Teemu, but had actually lost a further few seconds to Ogier, who was now in sixth overall. The Belgian was going to need a miracle now, as he was almost two and a half minutes from the leader.
The second run of Urunga, SS15 saw Hayden set the third fastest time and with Mads only tenth fastest the Kiwi was now in third overall, behind Ott and Jari-Matti. Thierry was doing his best to keep the gap to Ogier under a minute, and he was a second faster than the Frenchman.
The short Raleigh, SS16 stage followed, with Ott, Elfyn and Seb the top three. Ott’s lead was now almost ten seconds from his teammate, Jari-Matti.
After the double run of Destination NSW, during which the rain came, causing all sorts of mayhem, the Estonian had widened the gap to Latvala giving him a lead of twenty seconds, whilst Hayden had consolidated his third place overall, a full twenty seconds ahead of Mads. Thierry was in eighth place, fifty seconds behind Ogier. The chance to win the title was getting more remote.
So, let’s hear then from the drivers at the end of day two.
Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2:07:52.0
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +21.9
Paddon / Marshall (Hyundai i20 WRC) +26.3
Ostberg / Eriksen (Citroën C3 WRC) +46.6
Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +50.4
Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:44.8
Evans / Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2:04.6
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +2:35.2
Suninen / Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2:49.0
Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) +6:26.8
“It has been a good day. This morning, we were back in our normal rhythm and the car was feeling good. I tried to attack a bit and we managed to take some time back. This afternoon we continued to push to make more of a margin to the drivers behind. Tomorrow we know there will be some tricky stages and maybe some tricky weather too, so it won’t get any easier. But for the moment everything is going in the right direction and we are doing everything that is in our control.”
“I had a really good morning. The car was working really well, I was enjoying the driving and we were able to gain some places. The afternoon started well but I was probably too aggressive with the tyres. They became very worn, so I had to back off and I started to lose some time. Then in the super specials we were unlucky with the conditions. Still, we are in second place and we just need to bring that to the end: this would be really important for the manufacturers’ championship and for myself and to finish the season with a good feeling.”
“It has been nice to get back onto some of my favourite stages of the year. I have really enjoyed myself out there. There’s still more pace to be found, but we set ourselves the minimum target of a podium and we’re looking in good shape for that so far. The weather might still have a role to play tomorrow so we have to keep pushing. I’ve had a great feeling from inside the car and started to really get into the groove. Winning the repeat of the Argents Hill stage was probably the most fun I’ve had in a rally car all year. We now have one final day to see what more we can do – it’s still pretty close up top.”
Mads Østberg (4th)
“We struggled a bit more today to find the right rhythm and balance, especially on the second loop of stages, then we were really hampered by the sudden rainfall on this evening’s super special stage. But together, we fought hard and gave a good account of ourselves. We didn’t give up at any point, and that’ll be our mindset tomorrow as well.”
Craig Breen (10th)
“It just wasn’t our day today. I was unlucky this morning with a minor mistake that proved to be a very costly one. It’s especially disappointing because we still had the speed to do well. Although we’ll be first on the road tomorrow, we’re going to enjoy these magnificent stages as much as possible right to the end.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Esapekka Lappi (5th)
“I think we have done a good job today. The gaps were quite big in front and behind me so I was a little bit in no-man’s land, and it’s hard to keep the concentration when you don’t need to push so much. In the second stage of the afternoon I tried to back off a bit and immediately I started to make mistakes, so I decided to push again and we were fastest on the next stage. That helped bring us quite close to fourth, but tomorrow the main aim is to bring the car to the finish.”
M-Sport Ford WRT
Sébastien Ogier (6th)
“The loose gravel has made it a difficult rally for us so far, but it’s been a positive day in terms of the championship and I’m very happy with that.”
“First on the road yesterday was really tough. Fifth on the road today was a little bit better, but we still lost a lot of time compared to the guys starting further back.”
“It was a bit frustrating sometimes, but the main target is the championship and scoring the points we need. That’s what we’re doing at the moment, but tomorrow’s final kilometres will feel pretty long and we’ll need to be focused.”
Elfyn Evans (7th)
“We all knew it would be difficult being early on the road today. The gravel was really loose and you could see how much it was cleaning and how much faster the road was getting with every car. Still, we delivered a clean and tidy drive and it was nice to show some speed through both passes of the Raleigh stage.”
Teemu Suninen (9th)
“Today has been more difficult for me and I still have a lot to learn about how to drive in this loose gravel. I didn’t have the best rhythm, but we got a bit better in the afternoon and now there is just one more day to go.”
Thierry Neuville (8th)
“Starting from second on the road here in Australia, you know it’s going to be tough. We had to try and give it everything, to minimise the time loss but there’s only so much you can do. Despite the slippery conditions, I really enjoyed the stages and we had a reasonable run all things considered. There was a small moment towards the end of the morning loop when we broke the rear wishbone after clipping a bank, but we were able to fix that. We have had no choice but to keep pushing, focusing on our driving and have an eye on what’s happening in front in case anyone encounters any trouble. It’s a frustrating situation but it’s not over until it’s over.”
Andreas Mikkelsen (Rally2)
“Today we’ve been able to enjoy ourselves very much. It is always a pleasure to drive these beautiful Australian stages. Unfortunately, we are no longer fighting for a podium but we’ve tried to get into a good rhythm nonetheless. We haven’t been taking those final risks, which enable you to compete for stage wins but I’ve been happy with our pace and performance in the i20 Coupe WRC today.”
The final day then. Normally, the stages are short, but we had a very large almost 84km’s to go, over six stages. To fit it all in, it was another early start, with the first stage starting before seven in the morning. The start list looked like this – Serderidis, Breen, Suninen, Neuville, Evans, Ogier, Lappi, Ostberg, Paddon, Latvala, Tänak, Mikkelsen.
The rain had arrived and the first stage, SS19 Coramba was very muddy. Jari-Matti won the stage from Andreas and Thierry. These conditions were helping the Belgian, but how much? The gap to the leaders was still big and on balance, Ott had a better chance of the title, as he was ahead of Seb. Elfyn was doing a very good job, shadowing Ogier.
So, to SS20, Sapphire then and Hayden took this one from Latvala and Mads. Ott dropped to second place, five seconds behind new leader, Jari-Matti, after suffering a spin! In fact, Craig had spun at precisely the same place earlier and he suffered another spin as well later in the stage too!
Last stage before service then, SS21 Wedding Bells, and Craig suffered another spin after clipping something that was on the line. Lappi took the stage victory from a very quick Neuville with Toyota twins, Latvala and Tanak sharing the third fastest time.
After service, the re run of Coramba, SS22 and Thierry was going for it while the rain was pouring down. After reaching the 1km board, he spun after hitting a bank! He did get going again, however a light came on the dashboard. He found somewhere to stop and retired from the rally. Jari-Matti won the stage from Lappi and Tanak was third.
The re run then of SS23 Sapphire saw more drama. Ott stopped in the stage after an off, which he had got going after earlier in the stage, and was pushed to the side of the road by some spectators. Latvala was holding the lead now from Hayden and Mads was now in third after the demise of the Estonian. This confirmed Seb and Julien as this year’s world champions, with their closest rivals now out.
The final stage then of the rally and the entire year…. SS24, Wedding Bells and the power stage. Top five was, Ogier, Lappi, Ostberg, Evans and rally winner Latvala, taking his first victory since Rally Sweden 2017.
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2:59:52.0
Paddon / Marshall (Hyundai i20 WRC) +32.5
Ostberg / Eriksen (Citroën C3 WRC) +52.2
Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:02.3
Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2:30.8
Evans / Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +3:05.1
Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) +8:59.1
What an amazing rally. Seb and Julien emerged as champions again after a thrilling battle throughout the year. In their second year back, Toyota have taken the manufacturers world title. Very impressive indeed.
Let’s hear then from the drivers, top three first.
“I am so happy to win again. It was quite a relief after such a long time! The conditions today were incredibly demanding, and it would have been very easy to go off the road. Everything went my way today, and I am sorry for Ott that his rally ended in the way it did. I was very excited and nervous at the start of the final stage, but we managed to do it. To win the manufacturers’ title is fantastic. I am so proud of the team and what they have created. Everybody has worked so hard and they deserve this reward!”
“A great weekend for us! I’m really pleased to be back on the podium and to take our best result of the season. This feels like a proper podium. I felt the last few we’ve benefitted from others’ misfortune but we’ve definitely earned this one. Each year we’ve been getting one place better in Australia, so I must be on to win it next year! We’ve made good strategy calls all weekend and I’ve felt comfortable in the car. Thanks to the team and to the travelling Kiwi fans who have come out in their droves to support us. It makes all the difference. We have to see what happens next season but I hope this result helps our cause.”
“It really has been a weekend of ups – particularly on Friday’s leg when we were leading the rally – and downs, especially yesterday when we were a little bit less comfortable on the stages. It wasn’t easy to come back after two months on the sofa and such a long break since Wales Rally GB. But we kept on fighting, we never gave up and continued to put pressure on our rivals today. Our consistency and strength today on the extremely slippery stages were rewarded in the end!”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Esapekka Lappi (4th)
“Today was definitely one of the toughest days of the season: the conditions were very tricky and that meant you couldn’t enjoy the driving quite as much. It is nice to end this part of my career in this way, by helping the team to win the manufacturers’ title. I really wanted to finish on top but at least we had a good rally where we were back on the pace. Thank you to everyone in the team for their support.”
Ott Tänak (Retired)
“Congratulations to everybody in the team. They have done a great job. Personally, I can be disappointed about how it ended for me today, but in general I am really happy: I have the strongest car in the championship and strong people around me. It was a great battle all year; we were always trying our best. I went off in a really tricky stage with a lot of muddy places. I think it didn’t change too much in either championship though. I am really happy with my season and we will keep pushing next year.”
Sébastien Ogier (5th)
“It’s been an incredible season and the fight has been so close. Not so long ago we thought it was going to be difficult to take the title again, but we never gave up. We gave it everything and had such an amazing team around us. I am so proud of all of them and of course I want to thank Malcolm for another amazing job. What we achieved together over the past two years has been really special, and I am very proud of that.”
Elfyn Evans (6th)
“Congratulations to Seb, Julien and the whole team. I’m glad they were able to secure this one and – even though it wasn’t always easy – I’m glad we were able to help them where we could. Obviously for various reasons our season didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but the speed was there and hopefully we’ll have a chance to prove that again next year.”
Teemu Suninen (DNF)
“It was a shame not to have finished this rally, but I am really happy for the team and for Seb and Julien who really deserved this Championship. Everyone has worked really hard and it’s nice to see this result for them.”
“For me, I think I showed some good improvement this weekend and was able to set some good times on Friday. On the weekend I learnt a lot about how to drive in the loose gravel, and I’m looking forward to next year when I can build on everything, I learnt this season.”
Craig Breen (7th)
“It’s been a really tough event for us, especially since our mistake yesterday meant we had to open the road on these very tricky stages today. Saying that, the positive for me is that once again we had really good pace in the C3 WRC, especially during the first leg.”
“We gave it everything and had to take some risks today to try and capture the title. Even it was only a small chance, we had nothing to lose. In SS22, the conditions were really bad, and we simply went wide and clipped a tree. That was it, championship over. It has been a difficult and tricky weekend, and not the way we wanted the season to end but it’s part of the game. I would like to say thanks to the team and everyone at Hyundai Motorsport in Alzenau for giving us the car to fight for the title this year. Congratulations to Sébastien and Julien; it has been great to fight with them this year. We knew there would be one winning crew and that two would go home empty handed. It’s unfortunate we are the unlucky ones on this occasion. It’s been a great season for WRC and we’ve attracted some new fans, so now we have a short break and we can look ahead to another season.”
“In many ways I am pleased that the 2018 season has come to a close. It has been a troublesome year for me. This weekend is a perfect example; we’ve been quick and competitive at times but our event has been overshadowed by pure bad luck. Throughout the year we have made improvements and felt increasingly comfortable with the car, we just haven’t been able to translate that into results. Still, it has been a great season for the fans and it has been a pleasure to be part of it. We have had great support from the team and we’re all pushing in the right direction. We now look forward to a bit of time off, and then some proper testing ahead of Monte when we’ll go again in good spirits.”
Well, what an event! Look out soon for my season review.
Thierry Neuville’s victory started with setting the fastest time on shakedown. Despite suffering with some gremlins during shakedown, he powered through the stages and emerged victorious for the fourth time this year. Here’s the story of how it came together for him and Nicolas.
Despite rumours of rain affecting this event, Friday morning dawned bright and sunny. The first day would feature a completely new stage called Sherwood. I received some very useful information about the stage from a member of the support staff. He’s what he had to say about it.
“Sherwood is a real mix up. It has characteristics of the fast-flowing Bakers Creek stage from last year as well as the typical forest stages. It will be fast in the first half and then transitioning to a mix of technically demanding tracks and fast flowing forest runs.”
He explained that all the stages were in very good condition and that the forest stages would be harder on the tyres, compared to the shire stages. He continued by saying that Nambucca was in the best condition he’d ever seen it in as well.
Stage one, Pilbara fell to the ever- fast Andreas, but it was Kris who was surprised by Seb’s time despite running first on the road. Thierry was fifth fastest, five seconds slower than his teammate. It was a good stage in general for the Hyundai team, with three cars in the top five.
Stage two, Eastwood saw a few changes in positions, but Andreas remained at the top of the time sheets. Kris ran him close though, just 1.7 seconds slower at the end of the 19km stage. Paddon, Ogier and Tanak fell down to sixth, seventh and eighth, with Neuville, Jari-Matti and Breen all moving ahead. Wales Rally GB winner, Elfyn was struggling for pace and was now 28 seconds from the lead.
Now it was the first run of Sherwood and the longest stage of the day at 26.68km. It didn’t go well for Kris after he ran wide and had to stop, reverse and turn. Somehow, he still maintained second overall though, albeit 16 seconds down on Andreas, who was definitely in the zone. With Breen’s third fastest time, he moved up to third overall. Ott also found some speed and moved ahead of Latvala, into fifth.
The crews headed back to Coffs Harbour for service at this point.
Stage 4, the rerun of Pilbara saw the top three of Andreas, Seb and Thierry less than a second apart! Really close times! Overall, the top three was still Andreas followed by Kris and Craig in their C3 WRC’s. Thierry moved a little closer though to Craig after he suffered a deflation on his right-rear. However, he’d be okay, as he had a spare in the car.
Thierry won stage 5, Eastwood rerun and with that moved into third overall at the expense of Craig. Hayden was also moving up the leaderboard having been faster than Jari-Matti by 1.7 seconds. Kris had a better run through this stage in the afternoon, consolidating second overall. However, his teammate, Craig, fell behind Jari-Matti after a messy stage that saw him hit a hay bale!
The two short 1.27km stages were won by Thierry and with those under his belt, he’d moved into second overall at the expense of Kris although after his day, he was happy to be third. Hyundai had definitely hit the ground running
End of day 1 (Friday):
1 Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) 57m51.9s
2 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +20.1s
11 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +3m27.6s
Let’s hear from the drivers then.
Andreas Mikkelsen (1st) said:
“It has been a very good start to the rally, bringing back memories from our win last season. I have had a clean drive throughout the day with no mistakes and with an incredibly positive feeling from inside the car. It really felt like home! I have focused on increasing the lead wherever possible and 20 seconds is a nice gap. Our challengers will be closer to us on the road tomorrow, so we have had to make the most of our advantage today. Things really couldn’t have gone any better. The weather forecast suggests we might have some rain this weekend, and there are some long stages on the itinerary for tomorrow. For now, though, I am happy with how things have started.”
Thierry Neuville (2nd) said:
“We have had a promising first day. The conditions on the stages were quite tricky with lots of loose gravel, which meant a bit of cleaning for those earlier on the roads. All of the stages went pretty well from my point of view and I am generally satisfied with our position. We struggled a bit with the soft tyre in the longer afternoon stage (Sherwood II), which prevented us from pushing as much as we’d like, but we were still able to set decent pace. It’s a very close battle for second with Kris, while Andreas is looking very strong out in front. For sure, we want to aim for victory ourselves this weekend. We are in a more favourable road position tomorrow so I am definitely up for the fight.”
Kris Meeke (3rd) said:
“I enjoyed it today, although I’m a bit frustrated to lose time with my little mistake on SS3. I had too much speed coming into a corner and we ran wide off the road and into bushes. I had to stop, reverse, turn and go again and lost a dozen seconds or so. Apart from that, everything went well and I felt very comfortable in the car. The second loop was interesting, because there was little to choose between us despite tyre choices varying considerably from one team to another. We’ll have a good road position again tomorrow, and perhaps that’s the most important thing!”
Jari-Matti Latvala (4th) said:
“It wasn’t a perfect way to start for us on the rally here as my intercom broke on the first stage. When you’re pushing hard, it definitely helps to be able to hear your co-driver! Then I also lost the front splitter, which obviously affected the handling of the car. But I’m pretty satisfied with our progress in the afternoon. It was important for us to get back up to fourth after the forest stages this afternoon, as this will give us a better road position tomorrow. To fight for a podium on this rally you have to be in the top five really: if you’re out of the top five than it becomes too tricky with the road position.”
Craig Breen (5th) said:
“It wasn’t all plain sailing, but it was still a good day for my debut appearance here. This morning, I was really very happy and I felt totally at one with the C3 WRC. The afternoon was harder going, with several little problems that prevented me from making the most of the potential of the car. I’m back in my happy place in fifth, but I’m not too far off the podium!”
Ott Tänak (6th) said:
“It’s not been the start to the rally that we were hoping for and it’s not been easy with our road position. Obviously, Thierry [Neuville] has done a good job so we can’t complain too much, but we had some damage to the aerodynamics early in both loops which made it even more difficult.
“Looking at the gaps, it’s still really close and the podium isn’t too far away. For sure it will be difficult with the cleaning tomorrow, but we have two very long days to come. If we can find a bit more performance and attack hard, anything is possible.”
Hayden Paddon (7th) said:
“It’s not been the start that we had wanted to this final event of the season. So far, things haven’t quite clicked. There is no apparent reason; we just haven’t been able to get into the all-important rhythm. We will look through the data this evening to see if there’s anything we can find to improve for tomorrow’s stages. This is an event where I feel very comfortable usually, so we will keep pushing. It is fantastic to have such support from the crowds. There are plenty of Kiwis here and it makes for a great atmosphere. There’s a lot more to come, I’m sure.”
Sébastien Ogier (8th) said:
“It’s not been the optimum start to the rally, but we knew that we would be at a disadvantage this weekend. We had a gear selection issue throughout the day which didn’t help, and on the second two stages in particular you could see the road getting better and better with every car.
“Of course, this means that we don’t have a great road position for tomorrow – when we expect the road cleaning to be even worse – but we will still try to enjoy. We’re far from a strong result at the moment and it won’t be easy for us tomorrow, but there’s still a long way to go and we will keep pushing.”
Stéphane Lefebvre (9th) said:
“It wasn’t quite the day I was hoping for. My two punctures – that I don’t entirely understand – lost me close to half a minute. I can take nevertheless some positives from today’s leg. When everything is going well, my times are similar to those of Craig and I’m managing to get into the top five. I hope to have a bit more luck tomorrow!”
Elfyn Evans (10th) said:
“We knew the conditions were unlikely to suit us this weekend. It’s all been about getting the experience and getting the notes fully up to date. This afternoon was a bit better, but we’re still just focused on the job in hand – on getting through the stages and taking the maximum, we can away from this weekend.”
Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny. The rain had still not arrived having got stuck on the dividing range beyond the stages. The first stage of the day would be the longest stage of the entire event- Nambucca!
Thierry won the stage, averaging 109kph and eating four and a half seconds out of Andreas’ lead. Citroen driver, Lefebvre spun in the stage losing a lot of time after taking a bit longer to restart the car. Kris lost a lot of time and dropped behind Jari-Matti. In fact, this stage was not kind to any of the Citroen drivers with Craig also dropping behind Ott Tanak into sixth place.
The next stage, Newry saw Andreas dramatically exit the event, after sustaining a double puncture! Jari-Matti won the stage from Tanak with new overall leader Thierry third. Kris climbed back into third place overall, but Ott Tanak was just half a dozen seconds behind him.
The short Raceway stage 11 followed and it was won by Ott Tanak followed closely by Ogier and Neuville. The overall top three was, Thierry, Jari-Matti and Kris with just 22 seconds between them.
A very early service for the day at just before 11am followed this and then there would be three normal stages followed by two runs in Raceway to complete Saturday’s action.
Stage 12, Welshs Creek went well for Thierry who won the stage and therefore increased his lead over Jari-Matti by almost ten seconds. Kris touched a bridge near the start of the stage and broke his suspension. The team asked him to retire the car on the road section before stage 13.
Stage 13 saw Thierry again at the top and now his lead was almost 20 seconds over second placed Jari-Matti. Kris’ teammates had different problems though. Craig ended up with a butterfly in the car, definitely not ideal at all, whilst Lefebvre ended up with his tyres completely running out of grip and he was struggling with understeer!
Stage 14 the rerun of Newry was cancelled as there was damage to a bridge. It was made of old railway sleepers and one became detached, thus falling into a river whilst two others had damage from termites meaning that they’d only got worse with the cars running over them.
Stage 15 and 16 were won first by Craig and then Ott took the second running of it. All of this meant that our top three was unchanged with Thierry ahead of Jari-Matti and Ott Tanak in third after two days of punishing action.
Top ten following Saturday’s stages
1 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) 2h05m11.6s
9 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +4m20.3s
10 Nathan Quinn/Ben Searcy (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX) +17m35.2s
Thought’s then from the drivers-
Thierry Neuville (1st) said:
“It’s a good feeling to be leading the rally heading into the final day. Of course, the event is far from over but I have been very pleased with our approach to today’s tricky stages. Our pace has been good overall, and we’ve added more stage wins. At the same time, there is a sense of disappointment that we weren’t able to have more of a fight with Andreas following his retirement this morning. It has not been a completely trouble-free day for us either. We made a mistake in the Newry stage, going straight on at a junction, but thankfully we didn’t lose too much time. Something broke in the gearbox, as a result of us rectifying the error, which required a fix at lunchtime service. The afternoon then went more to plan and we could build up a reasonably good gap. There is no such thing as a comfortable lead, though, and with the weather still looking like it could play a part, we will have a challenge on our hands on the final morning.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (2nd) said:
“It was damp and even wet in some places this morning, so the soft tyre was definitely the correct choice. In the afternoon it was drying out, but just before leaving service we had some information that there were some showers as. Our plan was to go with full hard tyres, but as a result of this new information we decided to swap and take two softs. That information was absolutely correct: it was damp at the beginning and end of the long stage. I don’t think I quite got the right feeling with the balance of the car, but it was still a good day and we’re looking forward to tomorrow. My only regret is that we had one stage cancelled because of a damaged bridge, as I think that stage could have suited us.”
Ott Tänak (3rd) said:
“Overall I think it’s been a much more positive day than yesterday. We’ve had a much better feeling in the car and managed to improve the confidence and the driving. We had a big push in the afternoon, and to be back on the podium is a good thing.
“There are some more tricky stages tomorrow so we need to keep focused, but hopefully we can finish the year with another top-three result for the team.”
Craig Breen (4th) said:
“We’ve had another good day. This morning, I found the Nambucca stage particularly difficult. But considering it was our first time on the stage, we didn’t do too badly up against the more experienced drivers. The afternoon loop was better, with drier conditions. We have moved up the standings due the misfortune of the others, but that’s part and parcel of racing. I’ll be ready to grab any opportunities to get onto the podium.”
Hayden Paddon (5th) said:
“The Australian weather has thrown us a real curveball this year. Some stages were like two totally different rallies with some parts wet and others completely dry. It made for a complicated tyre choice with neither compound perfectly suiting the conditions. Nambucca was a case in point; the first 10 or 15km was wet and muddy but then 100% dry; it caught us out a little bit. We have been trying a few different things today to try and improve our feeling in the car. We found some improvement on the diff mapping for the afternoon, which helped give more confidence and made the driving more natural. We need to continue in this direction tomorrow and secure our top-five position.”
Sébastien Ogier (6th) said:
“This has not really been our rally but I suppose it’s better to deal with all these issues in one weekend than to deal with them separately over the season!
“We were hoping to try for some strong times through this afternoon’s loop but immediately after service we heard a noise on the rear. There was some damage and that altered the balance of the car. The end of the stage [SS12] was really slippery and in a fast, down-hill corner we had some massive understeer, hit a bank and spun.
“It’s just been about getting though the stages this afternoon, but tomorrow could be interesting with the weather. There are some really tricky stages and, if it’s wet, you never know. The rally isn’t over until it’s over so we have to keep going.”
Stéphane Lefebvre (7th) said:
“The start of the day was tricky, in the rain. On Nambucca, I stalled after a spin and then it took some time to restart. After that, I completely lost the rhythm and I struggled until the end of the stage. Running third on the road was a real handicap and that’s what led to me taking a gamble with the soft tyres for the afternoon stages. It wasn’t a particularly astute choice in the end, because the tyres lost their efficiency as we went further through the loop.”
Elfyn Evans (8th) said:
“We knew that we would struggle coming to this one, and we faced another tough day today. I really enjoy these stages, but we just didn’t have the traction to attack and enjoy them to the fullest. That said, we’ve made it through all of the stages and perfected the notes which will be valuable for the future.”
Esapekka Lappi (9th)
“Today’s been a tricky day with being first on the road: it’s been really difficult to judge the grip, with the grip levels always changing. Getting the tyre choice right was one of the most crucial things today: we were definitely on the wrong tyres most of the time but there was a good reason for that as we didn’t have any soft tyres left and I want to save the new ones for the Power Stage tomorrow. So that was a tactical decision and also a good learning experience, as we need to concentrate now on gaining as much experience as possible.”
Andreas Mikkelsen (retired) said:
“I am very disappointed. It would have been really fantastic to end the season with a victory but that chance has now gone because of a mistake on my part. About two kilometres after the start of the Newry stage, on a right-hander over a crest, I went wide and touched the bank quite hard. I thought I had only a rear puncture but it became quickly apparent that we had one at the front too. With only one spare in the car, it was game over. Nine times out of ten we would have been OK, but luck was not on our side today. Still, it is great to see Thierry take over the rally lead and we will be keeping our fingers crossed for him as he carries the honours for the team.”
Kris Meeke (retired) said:
“After a fast bend, there was a narrow bridge and we just touched it with the rear wheel. A few kilometres later, I felt that something wasn’t right. We stopped after the time control to try and repair the suspension. I wanted to keep going, but the team asked me to stop. It’s frustrating because in the end, the final long stage of the loop was cancelled. We’ve missed out on a good result.”
Sunday morning and the rain that we had expected finally turned up during stage 17 which was a rerun of Pilbara, but in the opposite direction from Friday. Sadly, Lefebvre retired after running wide and breaking his suspension on the rear after hitting a tree stump. Elfyn at last delivered a quick time and won the stage from Lappi and Ogier. Kris commented on the heavy rain saying “Massive rain in the middle of the stage. I couldn’t even see the road though the wipers. For us it was a monsoon.”
Stage 18 was another bad one for Citroen, as Craig Breen rolled out! Approaching a down-hill right-hander, the car took off as Craig didn’t know the car would take off. When the car landed, it slid wide and the rear caught the bank on the left spinning it and the car then rolled end over end a few times, before coming to rest further down the road. Kris had restarted the rally under Rally2 regs and explained that it was like driving on ice through the stage! Hayden won the stage though, with Lappi and Evans in second and third. In the fight for the win, Jari-Matti cut the gap to Thierry from 19 seconds to 9.9 seconds.
Stage 19, Wedding Bells and this stage would be run later as the power stage. Thierry increased his lead over Latvala to 14.7 seconds after winning the stage, whilst Andreas would take second fastest with Ott third in the stage and maintaining third overall.
Sadly stage 20 was cancelled and not even because the stage was bad. All the access roads had become flooded and the cars couldn’t get to the start.
It was time for the final stage of Rally Australia and in fact the year! Ogier won the stage and with it the maximum points whilst Ott was second. The big drama was that Jari-Matti lost control of his car and crashed out of second overall. Behind the two Fiesta’s was Lappi’s Yaris, Andreas in the i20 and Kris got the final power-stage point with fifth fastest.
After all that drama, Thierry was in control and took his fourth victory of the year, two more than anyone else, whilst the demise of Latvala meant that Ott Tanak finished second and a surprised Hayden rounded out his frustrating season third, much to the delight of his fans.
FINAL RESULT, RALLY AUSTRALIA 2017
1 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) 2h35m44.8s
2 Ott Tänak/Martin Jarveoja (Ford Fiesta WRC) +22.5s
3 Hayden Paddon/Seb Marshall (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +59.1s
8 Richie Dalton/John Allen (Skoda Fabia R5) +24m39.6s
9 Nathan Quinn/Ben Searcy (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX) +25m03.4s
10 Dean Herridge/Sam Hill (Subaru Impreza WRX STi) +29m52.3s
Here’s the thoughts then of all the drivers after this dramatic event!
Thierry Neuville (1st) said:
“This is a very special victory, and I dedicate it to the whole team. They have been working hard all-season long. It hasn’t always been easy but they have never given up, so it’s a big thank you on a job well done by everyone – not only those at the rallies but everyone at the factory. We obviously missed out on the championship, but we secured second place today and it gives us a massive motivation for next season. It was a tricky final morning and we didn’t want to take too many risks, so to take our fourth win of the year is fantastic. It’s really the ideal way to end the season. Now, we can enjoy this moment before turning our attention to next year.”
Ott Tänak (2nd) said:
“It was important to finish the season like this, and to finish our time with the M-Sport family in such a positive way. On Friday we were struggling a bit with the pace and losing the rear diffuser didn’t help with the balance. But after this we managed to find a good average speed and had the pace to achieve a podium.
“To be honest, I didn’t think too much about this being our last rally with Malcolm and the team until the last road section when Martin started to play some sad songs! It’s been a long journey together and it’s never easy to leave a family. It feels quite hard actually, but the whole championship is also a family so this isn’t goodbye, it’s just see you later.”
Hayden Paddon (3rd) said:
“It has been a difficult season for me. At least we have been able to bring the year to an end with a more representative result. We never want to score a podium through someone else’s misfortune, and it’s a shame for Jari-Matti, but it’s a nice result for us after a tough year. There is some light at the end of the tunnel in terms of finding our feeling with the car. We have found some answers this weekend, which has been the main objective. We were quite lucky with the weather this morning, as we seemed to avoid the worst of the rain in Bucca and could take a stage win. Overall, the car felt better after we made another big change with the diff mapping overnight. We’ve just been gathering information for the future and were set on bringing the car home safely in third and our second podium of the season.”
Sébastien Ogier (4th) said:
“It’s not been the smoothest of rallies for us, but at least we finished on a small positive with victory in the Power Stage. To be honest, it was more or less the only stage of the rally where everything was working for us.
“We had a lot to contend with this weekend – with the technical issues and also with our starting position through the opening stages. We just tried to stay focused and in the end that strategy paid off as fourth place was pretty unexpected.
“But regardless of this weekend, it really has been a fantastic season. A big thanks to Malcolm and the whole team. What we have achieved together this year really is incredible.”
Elfyn Evans (5th) said:
“We knew that we would struggle this weekend, but with the rain today we had an opportunity to use the soft tyre. It was a more enjoyable day for sure and it was nice to secure a stage win. It was unfortunate that we encountered a few little niggles after that, but all in all not a bad way to finish off the weekend.
“The season as a whole has been amazing for the team. We’ve worked with some great people this year who really deserve this success – a big thanks to all of them.”
Esapekka Lappi (6th) said:
“It was a tough day: a lot of standing water as the rain suddenly came on the stage before the Power Stage. There were a few surprises for us, as we were first on the road again. I wasn’t controlling the car – it was just like a boat – but we’re still here! Yesterday we were first on the road and we were struggling with tyre choice: today the roads were cleaning less so it was a bit easier. The tyre choice was actually good today as we kept some new tyres back, so we had a good feeling. The main thing is that we gained plenty of experience on this event, to try to understand the best way to drive here. Looking at the season as a whole I’m happy with our speed, but I know I’ve got plenty to learn to iron out the ups and downs we had. I’m already looking forward to next year.”
Kris Meeke (7th) said:
“The idea today was to prepare for 2018. From that perspective, it was pretty handy that it started raining because we could work in conditions where we have quite a lot of room for improvement. It wasn’t easy for me to push when I had nothing to gain, but what we have learned this morning will undoubtedly prove useful in the future.”
Andreas Mikkelsen said:
“It was disappointing that we were forced to retire from the lead of this rally on Saturday morning. Having said that, looking at the conditions we had to face this morning, it would have been a challenge to defend that. We were unlucky with the rain in the earlier stages. Even with the wipers on maximum, we couldn’t see anything. Still, at least we had a clean finish in the Power Stage and could bring the car home. Whatever the result this weekend, we have shown good pace. It has been a very valuable experience over these past three rallies with Hyundai Motorsport. I know I am in the right place for next season; the car is awesome and the team is fantastic. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for a strong championship challenge together next year.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (retired)
“Obviously this is not the way that I wanted to end the year but this is rallying and you have to take the most and learn from every experience, even if it doesn’t feel like a positive one at the time. We were pushing hard on the Power Stage to try and maximise our chances of doing something special and when you are pushing hard these things can happen. Up until then it had been a good rally for us and we managed to get very close to the front, especially after the first stage this morning. I’d like to apologise for my mistake today after a huge effort from everyone here, and most of all say a big ‘thank you’ to the whole team for delivering a year that went beyond all my expectations.”
Craig Breen (retired)
“It was a big off. I’ve not had one like that for a long time. Fortunately, the C3 WRC is a solid car and the safety features did their job perfectly. We weren’t sure of finishing in fourth place and I knew I had to push to counter a return from Paddon, who had slightly better road conditions than we did. I didn’t want to end the season with another fifth place without making a fight of it.”
Stéphane Lefebvre (retired)
“Obviously, it’s not the best way of ending the season. I just made a mistake on the first stage, a long right-hander. The conditions were awful, with a lot of water, which made the ground as slippery as ice in places. I got caught out by a slippery patch of mud. The car understeered, ran slightly wide and we hit a big tree stump. It’s a shame and I’m sorry for everyone in the team.”
Well, what an amazing rally, to top off a brilliant season! Thierry will take a lot of confidence from this victory down-under. Ott rounded out his brilliant season with another podium and Hayden will take heart from his second podium of the year, after a torrid time.
Ogier once again showed why he is the best driver in the world, with the ability to get the results he needs, and able to deliver wins when others wouldn’t. We’re still waiting to find out if he’ll be returning next year, but get the feeling that an announcement is just around the corner.
Thanks for reading my reports this year. I’ll be doing a season review soon, so do look out for that.