ANDREAS MIKKELSEN CLINCHED AN EMOTIONAL VICTORY AT KENNARDS HIRE RALLY AUSTRALIA ON SUNDAY AFTERNOON AS VOLKSWAGEN BOWED OUT OF THE FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP WITH A 1-2 FINISH.
He repelled a fierce attack from team-mate and world champion Sébastien Ogier, who spun away his victory chances on the dusty Bucca speed test early this morning. Mikkelsen achieved his third career win by 14.9sec over his Polo R colleague.
It wasn’t enough to secure the Norwegian the runner-up position in the drivers’ standings. Third place for Thierry Neuville in this closing round, a further 57.7sec behind in a Hyundai i20, clinched second in the points for the Belgian behind the already-crowned Ogier.
Mikkelsen and Ogier delivered a perfect finale to four years of WRC domination by the German manufacturer. It was the team’s 43rd win from 52 rallies and came after an exciting conclusion in sweltering and dusty New South Wales forests near Coffs Harbour.
Mikkelsen started today under heavy pressure with a slender 2.0sec advantage over Ogier. The Frenchman reduced it to just three-tenths midway through the long Bucca stage before spinning and allowing Mikkelsen to ease through the final three tests.
“This is a perfect end to the season,” said Mikkelsen. “All year consistency and pace was our aim with the championship in mind, but I came here with nothing to lose. I could go flat out and see what we could do.
“We challenged the world champion and beat him fair and square on the same road conditions. It’s my best victory but it’s sad to see this team and the car come to an end.”
Hayden Paddon had an outside chance of victory in third but his i20 swiped a bank and knocked the rear left tyre off the rim. The time loss promoted Neuville onto the podium and he didn’t need to chase bonus points in the final live TV Power Stage to finish runner-up in the championship.
Paddon’s problems relegated the Kiwi to fifth, but he overhauled team-mate Dani Sordo for fourth by 1.6sec. Mads Østberg couldn’t keep Sordo behind him after dust inside his Ford Fiesta RS impaired visibility and he finished sixth, while team-mate Eric Camilli rolled out of seventh after hitting a bank.
Ott Tänak eventually claimed seventh, ahead of WRC 2 winner Esapekka Lappi and a fast recovering Jari-Matti Latvala. Lorenzo Bertelli lost time when a broken rear differential put his Fiesta RS in two-wheel drive mode, but the Italian finished 10th.
ESAPEKKA LAPPI CLINCHED THE 2016 WRC 2 DRIVERS’ TITLE AFTER A COOL-HEADED VICTORY ON THE CHAMPIONSHIP’S FINAL ROUND AT KENNARDS HIRE RALLY AUSTRALIA.
The Finn, and his co-driver Janne Ferme, led from beginning to end, bringing their Skoda Fabia R5 to the finish 4m35s ahead of Nicolas Fuchs, also in Skoda. Peugeot 208 driver Hubert Ptaszek was third, two minutes further back.
The win was Lappi’s fourth in a row in WRC 2, and a maximum haul of 25 points moved him 10 points ahead of title rivals Teemu Suninen and Elfyn Evans.
It was a stylish recovery for the 25-year-old after a run of poor results in the first half of the season almost derailed his title ambitions.
“I feel relieved and really, really happy,” said Lappi, who had to win or finish second here to secure the crown.
“Everyone in our team deserves the title, they have worked hard with the Fabia R5 for the past three years and they gave me the best car.
“Okay, we had some bad luck this year, but we ended with four wins in a row. This wasn’t an easy event – I was driving against myself and had to motivate myself in a different way. There were some rough sections today, but otherwise we kept up the speed to stay concentrated and have a good feeling.”
Lappi is widely expected to step up to the world rally car category next year, but he remained tight-lipped about his future plans. “We will be back for sure – but I cannot tell you more,” he said.
Sunday brought no changes to the WRC 2 classifications in Australia as the well-spaced field focused on consolidating their positions.
The Citroën DS 3 of Jourdain Serderidis’s stuck in second gear through Bucca16 (SS20), and Fuchs had a dusty run through the first pass of Wedding Bells (SS21) when he lost his rear windscreen, but all five starters made it to the finish.
Rally 2 restarter Khalid Al-Suwaidi was fourth in a Skoda Fabia, 47m06s behind Ptaszek, while Serderidis, who retired on the opening day, was fifth.