Toyota on the hunt as WRC battle heats up
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Estonian Toyota driver closes in on the pair at the top of the World Rally Championship’s leader board Estonia’s Ott Tanak is on a mission to turn this year’s World Rally Championship into a rare three-way title fight.
It is 15 years since the WRC last delivered a final round showdown with more than two drivers in title contention.
In recent weeks Tanak’s pace and winning form in his Toyota Yaris WRC has seen him emerge as a serious threat to engage 2018 series leader Thierry Neuville (Belgium) and defending champion Sebastien Ogier (France) in the title fight.
Tanak had been in a distant third place and trailed championship leader Neuville by 72 points when the series took its summer break following the Italian round in Sardinia. Since then Tanak has started the six-rally run to the end of the season in almost perfect style.
Wins in Finland and most recently in Germany plus a haul of nine-out-of-10 possible Power Stage bonus points has halved the first-to-third difference between Neuville and Tanak to 36 points. And the charging Toyota star is putting pressure on defending champion Sebastien Ogier only 13 points ahead.
Tanak won on tarmac in Germany for the second year in succession. He built a slim lead over Ogier on day one and though he didn’t post a stage win on Saturday he added a little more to his advantage before the pressure was relieved when Ogier lost time with a puncture.
On Sunday afternoon, Tanak clinched the win by a comfortable 39.2s margin from Neuville while Ogier recovered to finish fourth, 1m 34.5s behind Tanak.
The Frenchman was helped by late-rally retirements by Hyundai’s Dani Sordo (Spain) and Toyota’s Jari-Matti Latvala (Finland) and also by winning the Power Stage where Neuville only claimed a point for the fifth fastest time, allowing Ogier to minimise his loss in the title race to only two points.
But it’s been Tanak in the spotlight in recent weeks — from the two rallies since the summer break he has scored 59 points while Ogier has added 27 and Neuville only 23.
With four rounds remaining Tanak’s form raises hopes for a three-way championship fight being alive at November’s Rally Australia finale in Coffs Harbour.
The last time the world championship involved more than two drivers at the final round was in 2003 when Petter Solberg (Norway) won the final round in Great Britain to edge Sebastien Loeb (France) by a single point. Carlos Sainz (Spain) had been in title contention before he retired.
The next event takes the WRC back to Turkey for the first time since 2010 with an entirely new rally based in the Marmaris region — a port and holiday resort on the Mediterranean — that runs September 13-19.
Tanak’s recent success has also re-ignited Toyota’s effort in the Manufacturers’ Championship. His win in Germany was supported by a third place from Finland’s Esapekka Lappi and Toyota has closed down Hyundai’s advantage to only 13 points while M-Sport Ford has drifted to 30 points behind Hyundai.
2018 World Rally Championship Round 9 of 13
1 Thierry Neuville (Belgium) Hyundai172 points
2 Sebastien Ogier (France) Ford149
3 Ott Tanak (Estonia) Toyota136
4 Esapekka Lappi (Finland) Toyota88
5 Andreas Mikkelsen (Norway) Hyundai65s
6 Dani Sordo (Spain) Hyundai60
1 Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT254 points
2 Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT241
3 M-Sport Ford WRT224
4 Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT159