Volkswagen's Sebastien Ogier
came tantalisingly close to being crowned the 2013 World Rally Champion on Rally Australia, however, despite dominating the event it wasn't quite enough.
Ogier proved untouchable Down Under and was in a class of his own throughout the tenth round in the 2013 World Rally Championship.
The Frenchman, who was fourth after the opening two Coffs super specials on Thursday evening, seized the lead in the first 'proper' stage and after that was never headed. Indeed on Friday he won seven of the eight stages to build an early 20-second advantage.
Ogier then extended that margin on Saturday, winning all six tests, to extend his overnight lead to 45.9 seconds.
He continued in a similar vein on Sunday too, and while he was 'only' second quickest in the first test of the day, he promptly won the remaining five stages – including the event ending Power Stage – to make it 19 stage wins from 22.
Despite taking the victory however, and despite also taking the maximum three bonus points for winning the Power Stage, he ended up one point shy of mathematically clinching the 2013 WRC Drivers' title after his closest championship rival, Thierry Neuville, found himself bumped up to second in SS22, when Mikko Hirvonen
picked up a left-rear puncture and dropped back to third overall.
“We did the job. It was a perfect rally for us and for the team – good points for the manufacturers' title too. We missed [taking the drivers' title] by one point because Mikko had a problem – oh well... What can I do? I just did my best and mathematically [its only] one point – so we'll get that soon,” Ogier said philosophically after notching up his sixth win of the year and the 13th of his career.
Neuville meanwhile again impressed to secure his fifth podium in succession for the Qatar World Rally Team. The Belgian struggled a bit initially on Friday, but on the repeat loop hauled himself up the order in his M-Sport-run Fiesta RS WRC and snatched third from Kris Meeke in final test of the day. He then pulled clear on Saturday morning, and looked set for P3, until Hirvonen's late misfortune.
“A clean run and no mistakes,” Neuville said at the finish. “This test is unbelievably fast and flowing. My thanks to the team and now I want to congratulate Seb.”
Hirvonen had to settle for third having seemingly had the runners-up spot in the bag. The Finn had moved up into P2 on Friday afternoon, and was the only one anywhere near Ogier. He was also the only other driver to win one of the bush stages too – when he was quickest in SS17 on Sunday morning. The puncture at the end though, denied him silver.
“I have no idea,” he replied at the finish of SS22, when asked what had happened.
“I honestly have no idea why we have a puncture,” he reiterated, “we were in the middle of the road the whole stage.”
Hirvonen's late drama was bad news for Citroen, already reeling from Kris Meeke's off while running in fourth on Saturday.