SYDNEY (Reuters) - France’s Sebastien Ogier secured his sixth consecutive world rally championship title when his two remaining rivals failed to finish stages on the third day of the season-ending Rally Australia at Coffs Harbour on Sunday.
The M-Sport Ford driver’s nearest rival Thierry Neuville of Belgium, who came into the rally three points behind Ogier in the title race, was forced to retire from stage 22 after tearing the left wheel off his Hyundai.
Toyota’s overnight leader Ott Tanak also had a mathematical chance of taking the title but the Estonian’s chances were scuppered when he slid off a gravel track made slippery by rain and hit a tree in the penultimate stage.
“It’s been an incredible season, so close, with ups and downs,” said Ogier, who has won all six titles with co-driver Julien Ingrassia.
“Not so long ago we were thinking it would be tough to win this title, but we never gave up and we gave everything. We eventually grab it on the last rally, almost in the last stage. It’s so emotional.”
Ogier’s fifth place in the rally meant he ended the season with 219 points, 18 clear of Neuville (201) with Tanak third on 181.
“We’ve been giving everything and took some risks to try to get the title,” Neuville tweeted. “We had nothing to lose anymore.”
Finn Jari-Matti Latvala won the rally by 32.5 seconds from New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon for his first victory since the Rally Sweden at the start of last season.
“It has been too long, it’s been two very long years,” said Latvala.
“I was losing the hope that I would win a rally. These tricky conditions went my way.”
Latvala’s win helped his Toyota Gazoo team secure the manufacturers’ championship with 368 points to Hyundai’s 341, a first success for the Japanese marque since 1999.
Ogier, whose title was a 14th in a row for France after Sebastien Loeb’s nine straight from 2004, will be leaving Ford after two years at the end of the season and rejoining Citroen.
“We had a fantastic team behind us,” the Frenchman added. “They kept fighting, giving us everything they could ... We had an amazing journey together, we achieved something very special in these two years. I’m so proud of my team.”
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Ian Ransom/Amlan Chakraborty