Sebastien Ogier has targeted securing his fifth-straight World Rally Championship crown on Wales Rally GB in two weeks’ time in order to avoid a battle against the conditions in Australia.
The Frenchman finished second to Britain’s Kris Meeke at last week’s Rally of Spain, a result which moves him 37 points clear at the top of the table with two events left to run. Ogier insists clinching the title on Deeside had always been his aim.
“I didn’t want to go to the last rally in Australia and still be fighting for the championship,” he said. When the Coffs Harbour-based Rally Australia took over from Wales Rally GB as the season finale last year, Ogier pointed out the potential problems.
He added: “The road cleaning is really bad on that rally and to go there and fight in those conditions, with the championship leader having to drive [in the worst conditions] at the front on the first day, it wouldn’t be so good.”
Ogier’s championship chances were boosted by Thierry Neuville’s final-day departure after the Belgian broke the suspension on his Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. Arriving in Spain, Neuville was 17 points behind the defending champion, but now his closest rival is team-mate Ott Tanak. Neuville is one point behind the Estonian.
“We’ve taken a really positive step towards the championship,” said Ogier. “I think we were on course to extend the lead anyway, but with Thierry’s mistake that changed the picture completely and we’ve been able to extend the gap even more.”
A double podium for Ogier and Tanak in Salou virtually sealed the manufacturers’ championship for M-Sport, with just four points needed in Wales for Malcolm Wilson’s team to take a first world title in 10 years.
“I think we can begin to plan a little party for the home round for the team,” smiled Ogier.
But for his own title aspirations, Ogier knows he has to leave Deeside at least 30 points ahead of his two rivals.
Ogier’s team-mate Tanak admitted the deal was as good as done for the Frenchman.
“There will be a big fight for second place in the drivers’ championship,” he said. “But Sebastien is pretty safe. The good thing for us is that we are in second and that means we’re in a better place on the road if it rains in Wales.”
M-Sport team principal Wilson admitted the result in Spain was like a win.
“To come away with another double podium is fantastic for us,” he said. “If, at the start of the season, you’d told me we’d have been leading the manufacturers’ and had our drivers 1-2 – and with Elfyn [Evans] really close to fifth place – coming into the penultimate round of the championship, I’m not sure I would have believed you.
“The team has worked so hard for this and I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved so far.”