The Toyota driver Ott Tänak finished second overall on the RallyRACC Catalunya – Rally de España, 17,2s behind Belgian rival Neuville to clinch the World Rally Championship crown.
Tänak became the first Estonian to win the FIA World Rally Championship in a tense finale on Sunday afternoon.
He snatched second place in the closing Wolf Power Stage to secure the 2019 crown with a round to spare, ending a 15-year French domination by the sport’s most successful drivers, Sébastiens Loeb and Ogier.
It is Toyota’s first drivers’ title since Didier Auriol won in 1994 and follows the Japanese squad’s manufacturers’ championship success last year.
Tänak started the final asphalt speed test in third place. He needed to finish no lower than one position behind leader Thierry Neuville in the final bonus points-paying stage to prevent the Belgian carrying the fight into next month’s Australian finale.
He didn’t require the bonus points, sweeping past home hero Dani Sordo to claim second place in a Toyota Yaris and spark wild celebrations among the Estonian fans. He finished 17.2sec behind Neuville’s Hyundai i20, but a mere 0,4s ahead of Dani Sordo, in another i20.
Tänak presented a calm figure throughout the championship’s only mixed surface event, but later revealed the stress he had carried.
“It’s difficult to describe the pressure I felt this weekend – it was on a next level. To manage all this and get through this has been my life ambition. You can not describe the intensity of the situation,” said Tänak.
“I never wanted to take risks but my mother said yesterday evening that if I want it, I can make it happen. I just had to make it happen.”
Neuville had led since Saturday morning in a bid to keep his title dream alive. His third victory of the season, allied with Sordo’s podium, enabled Hyundai Motorsport to extend its manufacturers’ championship lead to 18 points over Toyota Gazoo Racing.
As on Saturday, Loeb struggled for pace on the smooth flowing asphalt roads in Tarragona. Having led on Friday night, the Frenchman fell away from the podium battle to finish fourth in another i20, 36.3sec behind team-mate Sordo. This sadly proved what I said in my intro article to the event – at 45 Loeb simply lost that divine extra touch needed to stay in contact with the young ones.
The season closes at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on November 14-17. The gravel event is based in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales.
RallyRACC Catalunya – Rally de España result:
- T Neuville / N Gilsoul BEL Hyundai i20 3hr 07min 39.6sec
- O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Toyota Yaris +17.2sec
- D Sordo / C del Barrio ESP Hyundai i20 +17.6sec
- S Loeb / D Elena FRA Hyundai i20 +53.9sec
- J-M Latvala / M Anttila FIN Toyota Yaris +1min 00.2sec
- E Evans / S Martin GBR Ford Fiesta +1min 14.2sec
FIA World Rally Championship (after round 13 of 14):
- O Tänak 263pts (new champion)
- T Neuville 227
- S Ogier 217