Australia WRC: Latvala hits the front, Ogier still leads title hunt
Jari-Matti Latvala claimed the lead of Rally Australia on the Saturday morning loop, team-mate Ott Tanak helped Toyota’s WRC manufacturer title chances by going second, but Sebastien Ogier remains in control of the driver points standings.
Latvala and Tanak – who topped three stages in the four-stage loop – jumped erstwhile leader Mads Ostberg in his Citroen on the penultimate stage of the loop – SS11 Ulunga.
Ostberg struggled on his tyre choice of two mediums and three hards compared to Latvala and Tanak’s two hards and three mediums.
Toyota could employ team orders to swap Latvala and Tanak – who are separated by 3.2 seconds – to give Tanak a better chance of a first WRC title.
But Sebastien Ogier’s current sixth place would be enough to beat Tanak in the driver’s standings even if Tanak manages to win the event and take the five points for the powerstage win.
M-Sport’s Ogier has his Ford Fiesta team-mates Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen holding the two spots ahead of Thierry Neuville – the third title protagonsist – who lies 9th.
As it the positions stand, Ogier would take the championship over pre-event title leader Thierry Neuville irrelevant of additional powerstage points.
Neuville touched a bank on SS11, after running wide in a quick right-hander and was lucky to remain unscathed.
The car flicked into a bank but the Belgian steered the car out of trouble, although he appeared to suffer a related problem for the remainder of the stage. It held up for the short SS12 to end the loop.
Neuville’s Hyundai team-mate Hayden Paddon holds fourth and is just 4.3 seconds adrift of Ostberg, and holds a strong lead just under 20 seconds ahead of the third Toyota of Esapekka Lappi. Toyota came into the event with a 22-point lead in the manufacturers’ standings and look set to extend that lead as it stands.
Craig Breen lost his third place in the order on the second stage of the loop – SS10 Welshs Creek Reverse – as his throttle stuck open, causing the car to surge forward even under breaking which relegated him to fourth.
He then clipped a tree stump with his left-rear corner in the following stage – claiming he already had a puncture – and it pitched his Citroen C3 WRC into a 360-degree spin.
He enacted repairs to his car between stages, and was held up on his way to the final stage of the loop incurring 3m50s of time penalties. It means he lies 10th at the end of the morning, almost four minutes behind Neuville.
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Australia WRC: Tanak leads, Ogier closes in on title