Elfyn Evans wrapped up a sensational maiden victory on home territory at Wales Rally GB, sharing the plaudits with M-Sport team-mate Sébastien Ogier who wrapped up a fifth world title by finishing third.
The DMACK-shod car of Evans moved into the lead on Friday’s opening stage in place of Ogier and never looked back, opening his lead up to almost a minute on Saturday before a cautious approach on Sunday allowed rally runner up Thierry Neuville to close in slightly.
It was a drama-free day for Evans, keeping a calm head and taking a neat and tidy approach to the slippery stages, finishing with a 37.3 second advantage over Neuville behind.
There was jubilation for Ogier at the finish line, securing the final podium position and a two points in the powerstage, enough to put himself out of Neuville’s reach for the drivers’ championship with one round left.
He fell away from the desperately pushing Neuville in the final stages, happy to continue the trend of podium finishes which brought him the title this season, and the first ever for his M-Sport team.
“I don’t know what to say,” an exasperated Ogier commented at stage end. “It’s been a tough year for sure but with that at the end, it’s just incredible.
“Thank you so much to all the M-Sport team and Malcolm [Wilson]. It was a hard job, but it’s amazing to be world champion with this team.”
Try as he might to intervene, Andreas Mikkelsen was unable to help team-mate Neuville’s quest to keep the championship alive into Australia. He snatched fourth place away from Jari-Matti Latvala on the penultimate stage, but came close to losing it again in the powerstage, clattering a bank when carrying too much speed through a left hander.
Ott Tänak brought the last M-Sport home in sixth, and wrapped up the manufacturers’ title for his team as the first Fiesta across the finish line. His contribution on the powerstage was crucial, slowing to a crawl in the final hundred metres of the test to ensure he would not take crucial bonus points away from Ogier.
Kris Meeke was disappointed not to be in the almighty scrap which had emerged for second, but nonetheless was content with his own performance for seventh place, on a surface known to be difficult for the temperamental Citroën C3.
Behind Hayden Paddon in eighth was a driver who also struggled to deal with a car unsuited to the conditions. Esapekka Lappi crossed the finish line in ninth exasperated, the slippery polished surfaces of the weekend’s stages disagreeing with his Toyota Yaris.
Dani Sordo wrapped up his WRC campaign on a low note, struggling his way to tenth having lost over a minute in a single stage on Saturday evening. His pace was no better on Sunday, finishing nearly four minutes off Evans’ pace in the end.
Down in fourteenth and returning under Rally2 on Saturday, Craig Breen came home fourteenth, cheering on newly crowned rally winner Evans, as the pair were both co-driven by Gareth “Jaffa” Roberts before his death at a rally in 2012.
|Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT||+1.5||4|
|Toyota GAZOO Racing WRT||+1.6||3|
|M-Sport World Rally Team||+1.9||2|
|M-Sport World Rally Team||M||2:57:00.6|
|M-Sport World Rally Team||M||+45.2|
|Toyota GAZOO Racing WRT||M||+50.3|
|M-Sport World Rally Team||M||+1:02.3|
|Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT||M||+1:20.5|
|Toyota GAZOO Racing WRT||M||+2:46.5|