Neuville wins Rally Australia, secures world championship second

AFP
The Australian triumph added to Neuville's previous successes in France, Argentina and Poland and made him the most successful driver of the season in terms of wins.
AFP
AFP

Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville (center) and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul celebrate with their team after winning the World Rally Championship event, Rally Australia, near Coffs Harbour on November 19, 2017.

Belgium's Thierry Neuville won the season-ending Rally Australia in Coffs Harbour on Sunday to clinch second place at the World Rally Championship.

Hyundai's Neuville mastered the slippery final stages following torrential rain to hold off challenges from Finland's Jari-Matti Latvala and Estonia's Ott Tanak to win by 22.5 seconds.

The Australian triumph added to Neuville's previous successes in France, Argentina and Poland and made him the most successful driver of the season in terms of wins.

Frenchman Sebastien Ogier had already won the 2017 WRC heading into the Australian leg but Neuville's victory ensured he finished as runner-up.

Neuville took the lead when Hyundai i20 teammate Andreas Mikkelsen retired after hitting a bank and puncturing two tires on Saturday.

"This one is a special one and really goes to the whole team of Hyundai Motorsport," Neuville said.

"We are not world champions, but we drove like world champions.

"There was a real opportunity for him (Latvala) to get the first place, so we had to resist in a clever way but not taking too much risk in the tricky conditions."

Latvala looked secure in second but crashed his Toyota Yaris into the trees in the final Power Stage after sliding wide on a fast left-hand corner in the Wedding Bells State forest.

The Finn's misfortune promoted M-Sport's Toyota-bound Tanak to second, 22.5 seconds adrift. Hayden Paddon (Hyundai) claimed an unlikely third just under a minute back.

Tanak completed his M-Sport tenure with a solid performance before he switches to the Tommi Makinen-run Toyota outfit in 2018.

"It’s important to finish the season like this. It was quite difficult to think about this (finishing second) on Friday as I was not comfortable in the car," Tanak said.

Five-time WRC champion Ogier (M-Sport) completed the season with a low-key fourth in a Ford Fiesta after topping the Power Stage run in fine conditions.

"I can only tell you it was my last stage for 2017, that's for sure," Ogier tweeted.

"It was a tough weekend, we had quite some issues and we struggled a bit with our start position sometimes. Still it was a fantastic season for us."

Gearshift problems blighted his weekend and a timing error added to his woes on the final day with a 60sec penalty.

New Zealander Paddon capitalized on an error by Craig Breen, who rolled his Citroen C3 into retirement when on course for his best result of the season.


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