For Frenchman Sebastien Ogier, winning a sixth world title in his Ford farewell was like leaving a girl he loved.
Ogier claimed a sixth straight World Rally Championship as a torrid final day of Rally Australia prematurely ended the hopes of his two possible challengers. He started a wet day three needing to hold his spot ahead of Thierry Neuville, while overnight rally leader Ott Tanak also remained a chance of jumping him if disaster struck for the Ford driver.
Instead it was that pair that failed to finish in Coffs Harbour, Neuville clipping a tree with three stages remaining and Tanak running off the road on the penultimate stage.
Neither were able to recover, with the dual retirements assuring Ogier another title regardless of how he fared on the season’s final passage. But the 34-year-old sealed the crown in fashion, blitzing the 7km route to claim his only forest stage victory of the rally and the five bonus points that came with it.
Toyota’s Jari-Matti Latvala claimed Rally Australia honours, beating New Zealand’s Hyundai driver Hayden Paddon by 32.5 seconds and securing his team their first manufacturers’ title since 1999.
Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia will return to Citroen next year after two successful seasons with Ford and four with Volkswagen, while Neuville (Hyundai) and Tanak (Toyota) will go back to the drawing board after coming closer than ever to toppling their tormentor.
He hopes to become just the second driver to win titles with three different manufacturers and finish his career where it began.
“But it’s hard to leave; it’s like leaving a girl you love,” he mused on Sunday. “It’s like ‘why are we doing that, we achieved everything we wanted these two years?’.
“But it’s an exciting adventure ahead and we’ve had the best way to say goodbye to each other.”
The title-contending pair’s misfortune capped a rally that wasn’t short on drama as stray tractors, rogue spectators and a final-day downpour combined to push drivers to the limits on the 13th and final leg of the series. But as rivals fell around him the Frenchman held firm to edge closer to countryman and namesake Sebastien Loeb’s nine consecutive crowns. His streak looked in serious jeopardy after Neuville had built a 27-point series lead with a win in June’s Rally Italia Sardegna.
But Ogier chipped away in the six rallies that followed and the pressure finally told on those chasing maiden titles.
Three points adrift ahead of Rally Australia, Neuville’s crash and blown tyre on Friday cost him 40 seconds and proved to be the decisive before his retirement on Sunday.