OTT Tänak won his first FIA World Rally Championship in a tense finale to the penultimate round at RallyRACC Catalunya – Rally de España on Sunday afternoon.
A win by the Estonian on the event-closing Wolf Power Stage was enough to boost him to second place for the weekend and into an unchallengeable position in the championship with a round to spare. Toyota’s first drivers’ title since 1994 ending a 15-year French domination by the sport’s most successful drivers, Sébastiens Loeb and Ogier.
However, the fight for the runner-up position in the drivers’ competition between Spain winner Thierry Neuville and Ogier remains alive heading into the WRC’s grand finale at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on the NSW Coffs Coast on 14-17 November. The WRC manufacturers’ championship plus WRC 2 titles also will be settled in Australia.
Rally Australia Clerk of the Course Wayne Kenny congratulated Tänak on his victory, but said it would not diminish the end-of-season contest.
“There’s still a lot to fight for in Australia. Ott is a deserving winner after a superb season, but his rivals will give him no rest until the last stage is run in Australia,” he said.
Tänak started Spain’s asphalt final stage in third place. He needed to finish no lower than one position behind event leader and title rival leader Neuville in the bonus-paying stage to prevent the Belgian carrying the fight to Australia.
But he didn’t require the power stage bonus points, sweeping past home hero Dani Sordo to claim second in a Toyota Yaris and spark wild celebrations among Estonian fans. He finished the rally 17.2sec behind Neuville’s Hyundai i20, with Dani Sordo, in another i20, a further 0.4sec adrift.
Tänak presented a calm figure throughout the championship’s only mixed-surface rally but later revealed the stress he had carried.
“It’s difficult to say the pressure I felt this weekend, it was next-level,” he said.
“To manage all this and get through it has been the target of my life. When you are on the verge of this you cannot imagine it.
“I never wanted to take risks, but my mother said yesterday evening that if I want something I can make it happen. I just had to make it happen.”
Neuville had led since Saturday morning in a bid to keep his title dream alive. His third victory of the season, allied with Sordo’s podium, enabled Hyundai Motorsport to extend its manufacturers’ championship lead to 18 points over Toyota Gazoo Racing.
As on Saturday, Loeb struggled for pace on the smooth flowing asphalt roads in Tarragona. Having led on Friday night, the Frenchman fell away from the podium battle to finish fourth in another i20, 36.3sec behind teammate Sordo.
Jari-Matti Latvala bagged solid points for Toyota in fifth, the Finn ending 14.0sec clear of Elfyn Evans’ Ford Fiesta. Teemu Suninen steered his similar car to seventh, despite spinning in the final stage.
Outgoing world champion Ogier recovered to eighth in the sole-surviving Citroën C3 after opening-day power steering problems ended his chances of a seventh crown.
WRC 2 Pro winner Mads Østberg and WRC 2 victory Eric Camilli completed the leaderboard.
Rally Australia is supported by the NSW Government through its tourism and major events agency Destination NSW.
RESULTS, RallyRACC Catalunya – Rally de España (WRD round 13 of 14:
1 T. Neuville/N. Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) 3hr7min39.6sec
2 O. Tänak/M. Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +17.2
3 D. Sordo/C. del Barrio (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +17.6
4 S. Loeb/D. Elena (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +53.9
5 J-M Latvala/M. Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:00.2
6 E. Evans/S. Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:14.2
7 T. Suninen/J. Lehtinen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:47.6
8 S. Ogier/J. Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) +4:20.5
9 M. Østberg/T. Eriksen (Citroën C3 R5) +8.24.6
10 E. Camilli/B. Veillas (Citroën C3 R5) +8:47.2
WRC drivers’ standings:
1 O. Tanak 263
2 T. Neuville 227
3 S. Ogier 217
4 A. Mikkelsen 102
5 E. Evans 102
6 K. Meeke 98
7 J.M Latvala 94
8 D. Sordo 89
9 T. Suninen 89
10 E. Lappi 83
WRC manufacturers’ standings:
1 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 380
2 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 362
3 Citroën Total World Rally Team 284
4 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 218