Tanak makes it a double
THE FIA World Rally Championship could now be a three-way fight to the finish in Australia after Toyota's Ott Tänak recorded a second straight round win in Germany.
The Estonian driver cruised to a 39.2-second victory in ADAC Rally Deutschland and with the championship ending on the Coffs Coast at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on November 15-18, Tänak has closed to 36 points short of current standings leader Thierry Neuville and 13 adrift of Sébastien Ogier.
Rally Australia chairman Ben Rainsford said fans will be watching the next rounds in Turkey, Great Britain and Spain closely.
"This is the WRC at its best," he said.
"Three drivers in three different makes of car and some really difficult physical and mental challenges ahead before the final stage on the Coffs Coast."
The 30-year-old Tänak remains coy about his chances after the victory which also lifted his Toyota Gazoo Racing team from third to second in the manufacturers' championship.
"I don't know about a championship challenge but it's great to win this specific event," he said.
"This morning was very, very tough as Seb was pushing so hard and it was difficult to keep up with him."
Tänak was headed for only one stage in his second win in the event and laid the platform for success with a crushing drive in his Toyota Yaris over zig-zag Mosel vineyard tracks.
His task eased when Ogier stopped to change a damaged wheel on his Ford Fiesta and plunged down the order from second.
Neuville couldn't match Tänak as he struggled with his Hyundai i20's handling.
He inherited an unexpected second place when a fierce fight for the runners-up position between Jari-Matti Latvala and Dani Sordo ended in disaster for both drivers.
Latvala, holding a 0.8sec advantage over the Spaniard, retired his Yaris in the opening stage with hydraulic problems while Sordo crashed his i20 into the vines.
He limped through the stage but a water leak in the engine forced him out.
Esapekka Lappi finished third in another Yaris, 60.9sec adrift of Neuville.
It was the best sealed-surface result of the Finn's career.
M-Sport Ford's Teemu Suninen finished fifth on his asphalt debut after leapfrogging an out-of-sorts Andreas Mikkelsen.
Ogier's dream of a sixth consecutive drivers' title took a severe knock when he dropped to ninth.
He threw caution to the wind and two stage victories in his Fiesta promoted him to fourth.
The FIA World Rally Championship heads next to Rally Turkey for the first time since 2010.
The round 10 gravel-road encounter will be run out of Marmaris on September 13-16.