From a season-ending World Rally Championship victory being a distinct possibility, on the Kennards Hire Rally Australia, Craig Breen (Citroen C3 WRC) saw the prospect undone ever so quickly. Midway in the second leg, he was down in tenth place, due to a series of incidents. Aided by some late retirements, the Waterford driver eventually finished seventh.
Meanwhile, fifth place was enough for French ace Sebastien Ogier to clinch his sixth World Championship title. Driving the M-Sport-run Fiesta WRC, Ogier saw both his title rivals, Thierry Neuville (Hyundai i20 WRC) and Ott Tanak (Toyota Yaris WRC), fail to finish. M-Sport’s Malcolm Wilson and Macroom’s Gerard Quinn, head of Ford Motorsport in Europe, offered congratulations. The rally was won by Finland’s Jari Matti Latvala (Hyundai i20 WRC), whose team, Toyota Gazoo Racing, secured the manufacturers’ title.
Breen began Saturday’s second leg just 6.8 seconds behind his Citroen Total Abu Dhabi team mate, Mads Ostberg. On the morning’s second stage, the throttle of Breen’s car stuck open and, allied to some braking issues, he dropped to fifth.
Ostberg retained the lead, 3.7 seconds ahead of Latvala. A spin on S.S. 11 resulted in a damaged wheel. Subsequently, Breen arrived late into the control for the next stage and incurred a time penalty of three minutes and 50 seconds. He plummeted to tenth at the service halt.
On one of the afternoon stages, he spun again and lost around 15 seconds. Overnight, he was tenth, as Ott Tanak (Toyota Yaris WRC) led Latvala by 21.1 seconds. Ostberg held fourth with Ogier sixth and on course for championship victory, as Neuville was two places behind, his Hyundai having broken a rear suspension arm.
On the final leg, and with Breen’s Citroen C3 leading the running order, the wet conditions made the stages treacherous.
During the day, he spun twice and was off the road, before finishing seventh.
“It’s been a really tough event for us, especially since our mistake yesterday, that meant we had to open the road on these very tricky stages today,” said Breen.
Meanwhile, Tanak was also off the road twice. The final occasion, on S.S. 23, brought his demise. Neuville retired two stages earlier, with a broken wheel.
As Latvala went on to claim the spoils, Ogier bid farewell to M-Sport outfit, with his second title for the team and a personal sixth, as he returns to the Citroen team next season.
Ostberg made up ground and took the final spot on the Rally Australia podium, Citroen’s fifth of the year.
Elsewhere, in the 6 Hours of Shanghai, round five of the World Endurance Championship, Cork’s Matt Griffin and his Clearwater Racing team mates, Keita Sawa and Weng Sun Mok, finished seventh in the GTE Am class.
The race was red-flagged on two occasions in the opening two hours, due to extremely wet conditions. At the four-hour mark and with Griffin at the wheel, Clearwater Racing led.
Unfortunately, they were caught on the wrong side of the safety car and lost almost a lap. Later, an incorrect tyre choice added to their plight and they slipped down the order.
The Birr Loose Surface Autocross, at Gravelpark, Moneygall, which doubled as rounds of the 5 Star Catering National Autocross Championship and the Barrett Transport Munster Autocross, was won by Maynooth’s Padraic McHale (Yacar Buggy).
Recovering from a spin on the opening run, which saw him share last place, McHale then set the winning time on his second run — a mere two hundredths of a second better than the Semog Buggy of Laois driver Anthony Culleton.
The pair will fight out a national title decider in next month’s final round. Limerick’s Matt Shinnors (Subaru) won the saloon category to claim the national saloon title.