Toyota driver Ott Tänak ignited hopes for an FIA World Rally Championship decider at Kennards Hire Rally Australia in eight weeks’ time after winning a dramatic Rally Turkey on Sunday.
The win was Tänak’s third in a row, after Finland and Germany, and boosted him into a close fight for the drivers’ championship with current series leader Thierry Neuville and five-time champion Sébastien Ogier, now relegated to third by the Estonian.
Kennards Hire Rally Australia on the New South Wales Coffs Coast on 15-18 November will be the 13thand final round of the 2018 series. With just two rounds before then, in Great Britain and Spain next month, it appears increasingly likely Australia will host a title showdown.
The pace was fast and furious on Turkey’s first WRC event since 2010, but Tänak adopted a more cautious pace than his rivals to survive searing heat and rocky gravel roads near the coastal resort centre of Marmaris.
The first two days were some of the most dramatic in recent WRC history and Tänak’s patience was rewarded when driver after driver fell out in the gruelling conditions. He climbed from ninth midway through Friday’s opening leg to head a Toyota Yaris one-two finish by 22.3sec from teammate Jari-Matti Latvala.
Hyundai driver Hayden Paddon of New Zealand came third, the first podium placing of his part-time season.
Tänak became the first driver to win three consecutive rounds since Ogier claimed four in a row en routeto the 2016 title. The result vaulted Toyota past Hyundai to the lead in the manufacturers’ standings.
“It was so difficult. On Friday we knew if we finished in the top five or six we would be happy,” said Tänak, who received his trophy from Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Since the start it wasn’t a rally where the fastest would win, it would be the smartest. We did the whole rally without any stops and now the championship looks interesting.
“The championship is now wide open so let's keep pushing.”
A superb drive from Hayden Paddon saw him clinch third place at Rally Turkey.
He moved into the lead on Saturday after title rivals Neuville and Ogier retired with mechanical damage, Craig Breen’s Citroën burned to the ground and Esapekka Lappi’s Toyota was beached on the road verge then rolled down an embankment.
He climbed to second in the points, just 13 adrift of Neuville who gained some consolation from a barren weekend by claiming maximum bonus points in the rally-closing Power Stage. Ogier is a further 10 points behind.
Finnish driver Teemu Suninen was fourth in a Ford Fiesta, more than four minutes off the winning pace, while former leader Andreas Mikkelsen recovered from a broken front driveshaft on Saturday to finish fifth in the third Hyundai.
Ogier took a solitary point for 10th after teammate Elfyn Evans deliberately incurred time penalties to drop behind the Frenchman.
“It’s definitely a three-way fight for the title now and it’s still all to play for,” Ogier said.
M-Sport team principal Malcolm Wilson added: “I can’t remember the last time the competition was this close – and it really is all to play for over the final three rounds. It’s fantastic for the sport and the whole team will continue to push for the best possible result at the end of the year.
The Dayinsure Wales Rally GB will be staged on 4 - 7 October.
Full Martin Holmes report to follow.
Final Overall Classification:
1 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 3h59m24.5s
2 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +22.3s
3 Hayden Paddon/Seb Marshall (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1m46.3s
4 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) +4m10.9s
5 Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +7m11.7s
6 Henning Solberg/Ilka Minor (Skoda Fabia R5) +13m40.6s
7 Jan Kopecky/Pavel Dresler (Skoda Fabia R5) +18m25.2s
8 Simone Tempestini/Sergiu Itu (Citroen C3 R5) +19m37.1s
9 Chris Ingram/Ross Whittock (Skoda Fabia R5) +20m21.3s
10 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +20m51.2s
FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers (after round 10):
1 T. Neuville 177
2 O. Tanak 164
3 S. Ogier 154
4 E. Lapp 88
5 A. Mikkelsen 75
6 J-M Latvala 75
7 D. Sordo 60
8 T. Suninen 54
9 E. Evans 53
10 H. Paddon 49
FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers (after round 10:
1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 284
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 279
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 244
4 Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team 169
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