Toyota’s Ott Tanak has won the 2019 World Rally Championship with one round to spare as he took second place at Rally Spain, where Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville secured victory.
Neuville tried hard to deny Tanak’s coronation with a perfectly controlled performance.
He hit the front on Saturday when the action switched from gravel to asphalt and won the rally by 17.2 seconds, with Tanak overhauling Dani Sordo for second on the final stage.
The La Mussara powerstage sealed the title for Tanak, as he needed to beat or finish just one place behind Neuville on the test.
But Tanak won the powerstage with a scorching time, going 3.6s quicker than Elfyn Evans, with Neuville third quickest.
Tanak’s title means he is the first driver to defeat either Sebastien Loeb or Sebastien Ogier across a full season since Petter Solberg in 2003 and his triumph is the first drivers’ title for Toyota in 25 years since Didier Auriol won in 1994.
Defending champion Ogier was the other driver capable of stopping Tanak and led the rally after the opening stage.
But a hydraulic failure on stage two left his Citroen without its paddle-shift gear selector and crucially without its power steering.
Ogier struggled on but lost four minutes, eventually forced to settle for eighth.
All three Hyundai’s flirted with the lead on Friday’s gravel tests following Ogier’s issues.
Sordo took the early initiative but it was Loeb who led a Hyundai 1-2-3 at Friday’s end with an astonishing time on the final test of the day.
But when Neuville powered ahead on Saturday, Sordo and Loeb could not keep up and fell into Tanak’s clutches in fourth.
Loeb was overhauled on Saturday’s final Salou spectator stage, but Sordo kept his nose ahead.
Sordo repelled Tanak throughout most of Sunday, but Tanak’s sensational push on the powerstage was enough for him to steal second by 0.4s.
Loeb wound up a distant fourth, with Toyota’s Jari-Matti Latvala finishing 6.3s behind in fifth place, which prolongs the 2019 manufacturers’ title battle onto Australia.
M-Sport’s Evans had been squabbling with Latvala for fifth but an engine misfire on Friday and brief lapses of confidence on Saturday confined him to sixth.
Teemu Suninen finished seventh, surviving a late scare on the powerstage when he slid wide into a bank and half-spun.
Kris Meeke had climbed as high as third on Saturday morning, threatening the Hyundai’s dominance, but pushed too hard on the morning’s second test and whacked his Toyota Yaris WRC into retirement.
Through no fault of his own, Esapekka Lappi compounded a weekend to forget for Citroen.
Lappi had been in the mix until Friday’s final test when an engine-related issue stopped his C3.
The issue proved to be so severe that Lappi would not start either of the two asphalt legs.
Takamoto Katsuta was on for a points-scoring finish on just his second WRC appearance for Toyota.
But a gear selection issue on Saturday’s opening stage lost him over half an hour as he was restricted to just first gear.
In contrast to the WRC team’s poor weekend, Citroen’s C3 R5 topped both the WRC2 Pro and WRC2 categories.
Mads Ostberg was ninth overall and won WRC2 Pro, one place ahead of WRC2 victor Eric Camilli, who was 10th overall.
|1||Thierry Neuville, N.Gilsoul||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||Hyundai||3h07m39.6s|
|2||Ott Tanak, M.Jarveoja||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||Toyota||17.2s|
|3||Dani Sordo, C.del Barrio||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||Hyundai||17.6s|
|4||Sebastien Loeb, D.Elena||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||Hyundai||53.9s|
|5||Jari-Matti Latvala, M.Anttila||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||Toyota||1m00.2s|
|6||Elfyn Evans, S.Martin||M-Sport Ford WRT||Ford||1m14.2s|
|7||Teemu Suninen, J.Lehtinen||M-Sport Ford WRT||Ford||1m47.6s|
|8||Sebastien Ogier, J.Ingrassia||Citroen Total WRT||Citroen||4m20.5s|
|9||Mads Ostberg, T.Eriksen||Citroen Total WRT||Citroen||8m24.6s|
|10||Eric Camilli, F-X.Buresi||Eric Camili||Citroen||8m47.2s|