With 14 FIA World Rally Championship titles between them, a final stage showdown between Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier (pictured above, left to right) was set to be sensational and delivered drama to the last few feet of Rally Spain. Ultimately, nine-time champion Loeb held off Ogier — winner of the last five titles since Loeb ended his full-time participation — over the closing Power Stage to take an incredible 2.9-second win on the penultimate round of the championship.
Nearly six years after standing on the top step of a WRC podium, the French/Monegasque pairing of Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena powered into the lead on the first stage of the final day to notch up their 79th win and ninth on Spain’s round of the series. Elfyn Evans snatched third position from title contender Thierry Neuville in the last stage.
Like so many recent events, Rally Spain delivered yet more unpredictable and emotional competition, now ensuring the fight for this year’s world title goes down to the final round in Australia. Second position was enough for Ogier to inch ahead of Neuville in the standings, the rivals now split by three points. After yet another heart-breaking event, Ott Tanak retains his third position and still has an outside, but mathematical chance of taking a maiden title. In the Manufacturers’ Championship, Hyundai has regained ground on Toyota and the two makes are split by 12 points with everything to play for Down Under.
Going into the final two stages this afternoon, Loeb held the advantage after an inspired morning tire choice allowed him to power into the lead. He dropped some time with a spin in the first stage this afternoon leaving him and Ogier going into the deciding Power Stage just 3.6 seconds apart. A tooth-and-nail fight to the finish ultimately saw Loeb cross the finish line with a 2.9-second advantage, underlining his status as the sport’s all-time greatest.
Despite missing out on the win, Ogier was happy to have achieved his goal of finishing ahead of Neuville and retaking the lead in the championship for the first time since Rally Argentina in April. Evans was fourth going into the Power Stage, two seconds adrift of Neuville, but when the Belgian clipped a stone and broke a wheel the Welshman moved into third by a mere half a second, also aiding Ogier’s championship hopes as Neuville dropped to fourth.
Dani Sordo finished fifth, admitting the rally had been complicated by the weather, and Tanak ultimately took sixth having passed teammates Esapekka Lappi and Jari-Matti Latvala for additional championship points. Latvala dropped from a possible win to sixth in the first of the repeated stages after clipping a barrier and puncturing; he ultimately finished eighth. Tanak took the Power Stage win and five points, helping him retain a slim chance in the title fight. Craig Breen finished a demoralizing ninth with Andreas Mikkelsen and Teemu Suninen 10th and 11th respectively.
Kalle Rovanpera racked up his third FIA WRC 2 Championship win, the 18-year-old Finn fighting hard with teammate and provisional category champion Jan Kopecky. The Skoda pair finished 8.5 seconds apart with Petter Solberg taking third on the debut competitive outing of the Volkswagen Polo GTi R5. Enrico Brazzoli romped to victory in the WRC 3 Championship, his win enough to provisionally seal the title after beating Taisko Lario.
The final round of the 2018 FIA World Rally Championship — Rally Australia (November 15-18) — will now the scene for the ultimate showdown. Both the Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ titles will be decided on the gravel roads around Coffs Harbour.