Battling an adversed terrain with muddy conditions, the Hyundai driver held off determined challenges from Toyota WRT’s Jari-Matti Latvala and Tänak to win the 2017 finale by 22.5sec. It added to previous successes in France, Argentina and Poland and made him the most successful driver of the season in terms of wins. But he had to settle for second in the points for the third time in five years.
Neuville took the lead when Hyundai i20 team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen retired after hitting a bank and puncturing two tyres. He carried a seemingly comfortable 20.1sec lead into the final day’s speed tests north of Coffs Harbor. Neuville would face a strong comback from Latvala, who managed to cut his lead margin and possibly snatch the lead for a late win. However, the Belgian threw caution to the wind to regain vital seconds, made all the more important when the penultimate test was cancelled due to the weather. “That was a hell of a ride! I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input,” said Neuville.
Latvala looked secure in second but crashed his Toyota Yaris in the Power Stage, promoting Tänak to runner-up in a Ford Fiesta. Second for Tänak in his final event for M-Sport WRT before joining Latvala in 2018, preserved the title-winning British squad’s record of a podium on all 13 rounds.
Hayden Paddon ended a miserable campaign with third in another i20. He capitalized on an error by Citroen’s Craig Breen, who rolled his C3 WRC into retirement when on course for his best result of the season.
2017 WRC Champion Sébastien Ogier completed the season with a low-key fourth in a Ford Fiesta. Gearshift problems blighted his weekend and a timing error added to his woes with a 60sec penalty.
Elfyn Evans struggled for grip all weekend but the Welshman’s persistence was rewarded with fifth ahead of Esapekka Lappi. Kris Meeke in the Citroen C3 WRC, returning to action after breaking his C3’s suspension from day two was seventh. Local drivers Nathan Quinn, Richie Dalton and Dean Herridge completed the leaderboard.
The WRC season therefore ends on a high note and will return in January next year with the Rallye Monte Carlo.
2017 WRC Rally of Australia classification
1. T Neuville / N Gilsoul BEL Hyundai i20 2hr 35min 44.8sec
2. O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Ford Fiesta + 22.5sec
3. H Paddon / S Marshall NZL Hyundai i20 + 59.1sec
4. S Ogier / J Ingrassia FRA Ford Fiesta + 2min 27.7sec
5. E Evans / D Barritt GBR Ford Fiesta + 3min 05.6se
6 E. Lappi J. Ferm Toyota Yaris WRC +3:49.5
7 K. Meeke P. Nagle Citroën C3 WRC +22:58.4
Final Drivers standings
1 S. Ogier 232
2 T. Neuville 208
3 O. Tanak 191
4 J.M Latvala 136
5 E. Evans 128
6 D. Sordo 95
7 H. Paddon 74
8 K. Meeke 77
9 J. Hänninen 71
10 C. Breen 64