Tight World Rally race comes to a climax in Coffs Harbour

The closest FIA World Rally Championship battle in a generation comes to a conclusion when three drivers face the ultimate title shootout at Kennards Hire Rally Australia.

The rally starts on the NSW Coffs Coast today.

Sébastien Ogier, chasing a sixth consecutive crown in his farewell drive for the M-Sport Ford team, has erased a 23-point deficit in two rallies to head longtime leader Thierry Neuville by three points.

Ott Tänak is the outsider, but the fastest driver of all, having won or led the past five rounds. The Toyota Yaris pilot is 23 points off the lead.

A maximum of 30 points is available. Given the dramatic twists and turns that have been the hallmark of the tightest fight since 2003, few would bet against the outcome being decided in Sunday afternoon’s final bonus points-paying Power Stage.

Photo: Terry Hill

Photo: Terry Hill

Of all the possibilities, one stands out. A fourth Australian win on NSW gravel roads would secure the title for Ford Fiesta driver Ogier.

If it is warm and dry in today’s opening leg, road opener Ogier will sweep the loose gravel tracks clean, handing an immediate advantage to Neuville and Tänak. Forecasts suggest rain is likely, which would remove Ogier’s handicap and turn conditions in his favour.

“The pressure is now on our rivals to overhaul the deficit. We’re aware opening the road will not be an easy task, but anything can happen and we’re ready for the challenge. We’ve enjoyed a lot of success in Australia over the years and our goal is to add to that success,” he said.

Yesterday crews undertook reconnaissance of the entire route. But now it’s business.

The Coffs Harbour-based rally starts at 8am Friday. Drivers face 24 stages covering 318.64km before Sunday afternoon’s finish.