Ogier heading to Coffs with fifth WRC title under his belt
IN LITTLE more than a fortnight, a five-time world champion will be driving in the Kennards Hire Rally Australia.
Sebastien Ogier is the 2017 World Rally Champion after clinching his fifth consecutive title in the penultimate round in Wales at the weekend.
The Dayinsure Wales Rally GB was won by Ogier's M-Sport teammate Elfyn Evans, with Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville 37.3 seconds behind.
A further 7.9 seconds back, Ogier took third place and enough points to put his championship beyond challenge before the series finale on the Coffs Coast from November 16-19.
With a third M-Sport Ford Fiesta driver, Ott Tänak finishing sixth, the British privateer team capped an historic weekend by taking the WRC manufacturers' championship for the first time in 10 years.
Evans not only took his first WRC victory - and on Welsh home soil - but dominated the four-day rally. He set fastest times on nine of the 21 stages and, despite the challenges of rain, fog and muddy roads, held on to the overall lead from the first speed test on Friday.
He became the seventh different winner and the third first-time winner, alongside Tänak and Toyota's Esapekka Lappi, in what has been the most competitive WRC season in decades. Co-driven by Daniel Barritt, Evans was the first British driver to win the home round since 2000.
Rally Australia chairman Ben Rainsford congratulated the winners and said the result guaranteed fans next month would see the world's best drivers in action.
"Malcolm Wilson and the M-Sport team pulled off an extraordinary achievement at Wales Rally GB. The manufacturers' championship, drivers' championship, co-drivers' championship (for Ogier's co-driver Julien Ingrassia) and a home-round win in one weekend is amazing," Rainsford said.
"It will be a thrill to see the new world champions in action at Rally Australia, but there will also be unfinished business on the Coffs Coast.
"There's still a battle for second in the WRC to be settled between Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak and, of course, we'll host the Australian Rally Championship decider between Molly Taylor and Nathan Quinn.
"I predict the gloves will now be off at Rally Australia. With the new faster, louder and wilder-looking WRC cars making their first appearance Down Under, we're going to host a cracking climax to the 2017 season."
WRC teams will now have barely a week to return to their bases and prepare their cars before they are air-freighted to Australia.
Organisers are planning a big welcome for the international and Australian teams entered, with a free Rally Show and Ceremonial Start expected to attract thousands of fans to the closed main street of Coffs Harbour on Thursday, November 16.
The competitors' service park at C.ex International Stadium will be a hub of rally activity with free entertainment, including driver appearances, music concerts, fireworks, student visits, souvenir sales and a $5000 cash giveaway.