Neuville & Hyundai wins 2017 WRC Finale

Thierry Neuville won his fourth FIA World Rally Championship round of 2017, the Kennards Hire Rally Australia finale after overcoming torrential rain on the final day to steer his Hyundai i20 to a 22.5sec win. By doing so Neuville also secured the Championship runners-up spot for the third time in five years. However, the final knockings of the 2017 season was not without drama and Neuvilles nearest challenger Jari-Matti Latvala dramatically crashed his Toyota Yaris out of second place on the final live TV Power Stage, promoting the M-Sport Ford Fiesta of Ott Tänak into second and Haydon Paddons Hydunai i20 into third. Significantly, Tanaks podium finish means there has been an M-Sport EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta on the podium at every round of the 2017 championship!

Neuvilles Hyundai team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen led the rally overnight on Friday in only his third outing with the team, winning five of the opening six stages but the chance of repeating his 2016 victory at this event disappeared when his i20 suffered a double puncture on Saturday mornings second loop and with only one spare tyre available, the Norwegian was forced to retire, promoting Neuville to the lead of the rally.

The Belgian then fended off Latvala for the remainder of the rally labelling his own victory as a "Clever" drive in damp conditions. The penultimate stage of the day was cancelled because of the bad weather leaving only the Power Stage after Sundays service break and, in a heartbreaking twist, Latvala clipped the inside of a long left-hander and hit a tree, instantly ending his rally and handing second place to Tanak on his M-Sport swansong. The Power Stage was won by newly crowned champion Sébastien Ogier to claim five bonus points, Tänak took four for second with Lappi claiming three for third in a Toyota Yaris. Mikkelsen and Meeke took two and one points respectively.

Citroen would rather forget Rally Australia with all three cars hitting major problems. Kris Meeke was running as high as second on Friday but broke his right-rear suspension when he hit a bridge on SS12, retiring and rejoining under Rally2 rules along with Mikkelsen and the sole WRC2 entry of Kalle Rovanpera. Craig Breen seemed set for fourth place before rolling his Citroen C3 on SS18 and the third Citroen of Lefebvre clipped a tree and retired just prior to Breens misdemeanour!

With Latvala, Meeke and Breen in trouble, Hayden Paddon secured the final podium position, only his second top three finish of 2017 and Sebastien Ogier, who had sealed his fifth WRC in Wales, finished the rally a distant fourth position. His departing M-Sport team-mate Tanak endured a rally riddled with gearbox issues, a one-minute time penalty for an early stage arrival and a general lack of a speedy rhythm in his Fiesta. Rally GB winner Elfyn Evans finished in fifth position with poor grip from his DMACK-shod Fiesta all weekend however, the Welshman avoided any major dramas to secure 10 points in what could be be his final rally with DMACK. Esapekka Lappi suffered a power steering issue on the first day from which he never recovered, ending the rally in sixth place with Meekes Citroen seventh and the last works car in the top ten.

Kennards Hire Rally Australia Final Top Ten Positions

Pos .... Driver .... Team .... Car .... Gap
1. Thierry Neuville, N.Gilsoul Hyundai Motorsport 2h35m44.8s
2. Ott Tanak, M.Jarveoja M-Sport World Rally Team 22.5s
3. Hayden Paddon, S.Marshall Hyundai Motorsport 59.1s
4. Sebastien Ogier, J.Ingrassia M-Sport World Rally Team 2m27.7s
5. Elfyn Evans, D.Barritt M-Sport World Rally Team 3m05.6s
6. Esapekka Lappi, J.Ferm Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC 3m49.5s
7. Kris Meeke, P.Nagle Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT 22m58.4s
8. Nathan Quinn, B.Searcy Mitsubishi 25m03.4s
9. Richie Dalton, J.Allen Skoda 25m39.6s
10. Dean Herridge, S.Hill Subaru 29m52.3s

Final drivers' standings

Pos ..... Driver ..... Points
1. Sebastien Ogier 232
2. Thierry Neuville 208
3. Ott Tanak 191
4. Jari-Matti Latvala 136
5. Elfyn Evans 128
6. Dani Sordo 95
7. Kris Meeke 77
8. Hayden Paddon 74

Manufacturers Championship Final Positions

Pos ..... Team/Manufacturer .... Points
1. M-Sport World Rally Team 428
2. Hyundai Motorsport 345
3. Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC 251
4. Citroen Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team 218

27th November, 2017