SYDNEY (Reuters) - Sebastien Ogier was in pole position to take a sixth consecutive world rally championship title after finishing the second day of Rally Australia with a lead of more than 50 seconds over his main challenger Thierry Neuville on Saturday.
The M-Sport Ford driver was in sixth place one minute and 44.8 seconds behind Toyota’s rally leader Ott Tanak with Sunday’s six stages remaining but another disappointing day for Neuville was a huge boost to the Frenchman’s title chances.
Belgian Neuville, who was just three points behind Ogier coming into the final round of the championship, was forced to play roadsweeper as an early starter after stalling and suffering a puncture on day one.
The Hyundai driver struck a bank on the third stage of the day, damaging the car’s suspension, and finished the day in eighth place more than 2 1/2 minutes behind Toyota’s Tanak.
“Since our puncture yesterday we are driving flat out,” said Neuville.
“I pushed really hard but with these conditions, it’s difficult. I will never give up.”
Tanak, who won six of Saturday’s 10 stages to overhaul day one leader Mads Ostberg, retains a mathematical chance of winning the title on the tracks around the coastal city of Coffs Harbour.
With 23 points to make up on Ogier in the drivers’ standings, however, the Estonian will need to win the rally, score maximum bonus points in the concluding power stage and hope the reigning champion plummets down the standings.
“I know Seb well, he’s a smart guy, but we’ll target our job and you never know what can happen,” Tanak said.
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty