There couldn’t have been a more dramatic end to the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC). Mere seconds separated the top three at Kennards Hire Rally Australia heading into the final day, but drama seemed to touch many drivers except for the dominant rally winner; Andreas Mikkelsen.
Mikkelsen knew he had a fight on his hands with the four-time world champion breathing down his neck but the Norwegian kept his cool under pressure. Ogier made what he says is only his second mistake of the year and spun during the morning loop of stages losing around 20 seconds in the process.
“It was maximum attack from the start. When I woke this morning, I knew we had a big fight and we just gave it everything and it was enough. I’m really happy and really proud to sit here in the middle of these fantastic drivers,” said Mikkelsen.
When quizzed about his mistake, Ogier remained upbeat. “It was only the second spin of the year — I cannot complain much for that. Two spins in the season? I would sign for the same in the future. There was a bit of frustration when we did that, but I am still proud of what we have done this year and this week with Julien,” he said.
Our very own Hayden Paddon also made a vital error early in the morning when he went wide and hit a bank, causing the rear tyre to come off the rim. He lost over 50 seconds and a podium position as a result. But even that couldn’t deter the Kiwi from the positives of the event.
He paid tribute to the hundreds of fans who made the trek to Coffs Harbour to support him, plus said it had been a huge year of learning and now shifts his focus to the off-season where he’ll no doubt be as flat out as he was here with testing, media commitments and preparations for next year.
“We just tried to enjoy the last few stages and put on a good show for our fans. I wanted more [but] I am now concentrating on the off season,” said Paddon.
Paddon’s team-mate, Belgian Thierry Neuville finished the rally in third promoting him to second overall in the FIA WRC drivers’ championship; a position he has secured once before. “After two or three stages, I realised if I want to be second in the championship then I have to push hard and I have done that. Andreas has done very well, leading nearly all the time. I had no other choice but to go as fast as possible,” said Neuville.
Eric Camilli (France) managed to roll his car onto its side during the live stage this morning. In an interesting turn of events, and perhaps mixed with a bit of bad luck, spectators tried to help the stranded M-Sport Ford onto its wheels, only to push it onto its roof. They managed to turn it right way up again but a fire broke out, Camilli suffered a minor burn and had to be airlifted out before the stage could restart.
But restart it did and so did the battles. And then came the end, although it was a bittersweet end for many of the drivers and co-drivers.
It is the end of an incredible season. The FIA WRC has had everything from tears of joy, to tears of frustration. Deflated tyres and deflated hopes. Extreme heat to the extreme cold. And yet, it still remains as one of the most competitive and inspiring championships the world sees.
Even in my years as a motor sport journalist, I have never witnessed anything as genuine and honest as Ogier and his VW team. They cried, they laughed, they jumped (and wrecked the roof of the Polo, because, why not?) and they leave a legacy behind them. So I would like to leave my final thoughts for the event by quoting the world champion, Sebastien Ogier, who showed true compassion today.
“I want to add something quickly — I just didn’t mention one thing... I want to say a big well done to Andreas and Anders, this was a proper win and I didn’t say it. If it helps them to be with us next year — although also I don’t know if I will be there! But these guys need to be there.”
And Seb, for the record, you all need to be there. Bring on 2017!
Results (difference to previous/difference to leader):
1. Mikkelsen 2:46:05.72
2. Ogier +14.9 / +14.9
3 .Neuville +57.7 / +1:26.6
4. Paddon +14.1 / +1:26.7
5. Sordo +1.6 / 1:28.3
Thanks to Alana McIsaac for the words, and Alana McIsaac, Jeremy Rogers, and Bruce Thomas for the photos.