Rally Australia Preview:  Three kings for one crown

From Thursday to Sunday this week (15-18 November) the World Rally Championship (WRC) celebrates the last race of its Australasian leg. Here at the Kennards Hire Rally Australia, both the 2018 Driver and Constructor’s titles will be decided. A great finale to one of the most competitive and exciting seasons of recent times.

Three drivers; Ott Tänak, Thierry Neuville and Sébastien Ogier are competing for the individual crownwhile their respective brands Toyota, Hyundai and M-Sport Ford, will battle out the Constructor’s title. The contest is extremely close with Ogier leading the standings by just three points and Toyota by 12.

The battlefield 

Before getting into each of the three contestant’s chances to the throne, let’s have a look at the scenario where the war for the title will take place. The Rally Australia is made up of 24 special stages, 16 of which are new or modified, totaling 318.64 kilometers spread over four days.

The most important change in the route has been implemented in the Nambucca section. Its length has been cut down from the 49 kilometres it had in 2017 to 28.84 km this year. It is a pity such a radical snip to one of the most challenging and demanding stages. Some of its sections, however, have been kept in order to create the ‘Argents Hill Reverse‘. This will take place on Saturday and will be the longest and one of the most spectacular bits.

Another difference with 2017 is that of the last special, the ‘Wedding Bells’, which will run in the opposite direction. Also, there will be a larger jump at Forests NSW Rally Village, which will host the introductory and arrival ceremonies.

In addition to this, the ‘Super Special Raleigh Raceway’ which is due to take place on Saturday will feature twice in the battel for the title. Finally, two new jumps and water splash have been added to the ‘Destination New South Wales Super Special Stage’ (Coffs Harbor) although most of the remainder of the stage has been kept intact.

The dusty and slippery forest tracks of the Rally Australia are waiting for the four-wheel gladiators. As the Roman emperor, Julius Caesar would say: “Alea jacta est” or “the die is cast“.

Three candidates to the Driver’s Championship Title 

Sébastien Ogier leads the standings after finishing in second place at the Rally of Catalonia, a real blow to the leader till that point, Thierry Neuville. The French driver has 204 points, three more than his Belgian rival. Ogier is full of confidence since his fourth victory of the season at the Welsh Rally, after which he re-started his fight for the title. 

The five-time French champion feels very comfortable in the Aussie race having raised to the top of the podium there in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Only the legendary Finn driver Juha Kankunen has won the Rally Australia more times than him. That is not to mention the absolute dominance of the Championship that he has exerted over the last five years winning the title in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. All in all, the French driver of the M-Sport Ford WRT formation will be a tough nut to crack. 
Neuville, however, is not going to make it easy for him. The latest winner of the Rally Australia (2017) is determined to win his first World Cup. In Spain, he was ousted by Ogier from the leading position but throughout the championship, and with a total of three victories, he has demonstrated to be ready to steal the crown from the French monarch. Will the experience of the second most successful driver in history will prevail? Or will Ogier give in to the Belgian driver’s thirst for glory?

Everything points to the two fastest gunmen in the World Championship to star in a vibrant duel, with the possibility of them being joined by a luxury guest, Toyota’s Ott Tänak. The Estonian is third in the standings at 20 points from Neuville and 23 from Ogier. Statistically, he is still in for a chance with 30 points in total still up for grabs at the Rally Australia. His chances are remote but if he happens to be the fastest and the two favourites suffer some sort of debacle, he could be the next champion. 

On the other hand, his performance could determine the fate of the other two if he manages to get in between the two strongest candidates at the Rally Australia. In any case, Tänak, who was a favourite for the title (with three consecutive wins) up to his downfall at Rally Wales, wants to say goodbye to the year in style. And he has plenty of talent to do it.

Three teams for one Constructors’ Title

As with the Driver’s Championship, the Constructor’s Title will also be decided at the Rally Australia, with 40 points still up for grabs. TOTOYA GAZOO Racing WRT heads the table with a total of 331 points, followed by Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT with 319.

At the Catalonian Rally, however, the Koreans shortened the difference with the Japanese team to those meagre 12 points. They also got two of their cars in the top five. A little further down, 25 points from the leader at the Rally Australia, is M-Sport Ford WRT. May the best one win.

Main image: @WRC

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