Sebastien Ogier stormed to his first victory of the FIA World Rally Championship’s all-new hybrid era, triumphing on Rally Spain while helping secure the manufacturers’ title for Toyota Gazoo Racing.
The eight-time champ, who’s been contesting a part-time WRC campaign for Toyota this season while he pursues his WEC sports car racing aspirations, took control of the season’s penultimate round when he posted a trio of fastest times on Saturday’s second leg of the all-asphalt event in the Costa Daurada hills west of Barcelona.
Ogier carried a 20.7s lead into Sunday’s final leg and could afford to negotiate the final four stages without taking excessive risks in his GR Yaris Rally1.
The 38-year-old Frenchman did exactly that, clinching the victory by 16.4s from Hyundai i20 N Rally1 driver Thierry Neuville to land his first triumph of the season and the first top-level WRC win for new-for-2022 co-driver Benjamin Veillas.
Watch Rally Spain highlights below:
Kalle Rovanpera, who became the youngest-ever WRC drivers’ champion earlier this month aged 22, made it a double podium for Toyota. The result secured the Japanese marque its second-successive manufacturers’ crown.
With one round to spare, the Jyvaskyla, Finland-based squad holds an unassailable 93-point lead over Hyundai Motorsport and can no longer be caught.
“It’s Benji’s first win so I am very happy for him,” said Ogier. “It’s fantastic to get this win because it was an important weekend for the team.
“It’s not always easy to achieve such results and this season has been very dominant, so congratulations to Toyota Gazoo Racing.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing team principal Jari-Matti Latvala added: “It’s great to secure the title here. The last rally in Japan is the home round for Toyota, so now we can be much more relaxed going there. If we can win there, we can have even bigger celebrations!”
Neuville grabbed the runner-up spot from Rovanpera late on Saturday afternoon and was poised for a tight final-day scrap with the young Finn. That battle never materialized, however, as Rovanpera punctured a left-front tire when he drove over a drainage hole in Sunday’s second stage. At the final control, 18.1s split the pair.
Hyundai entries locked out the remainder of the top five positions, with Ott Tanak finishing 44.0s back from the lead in fourth overall. The Estonian driver never quite found the sweet spot in terms of his car’s setup and trailed Rovanpera’s Yaris by 9.5s at the finish.
A disappointed Dani Sordo was 32.5s further back in his i20 N Rally1 after a mixed weekend on his home roads. He’s lacked pace until setup tweaks at Saturday’s midpoint service unlocked a sudden turn of speed. Unfortunately, those tweaks came too late for a tilt at the podium, and despite winning a couple of the smooth asphalt stages, the local hero was left to rue what could have been.
Also feeling dejected was sixth-placed Elfyn Evans. The Welshman felt he was lacking performance throughout the rally, and a puncture in his Toyota at the same place on the Riudecanyes stage as teammate Rovanpera compounded his woes.
Toyota development driver Takamoto Katsuta and M-Sport Ford’s Adrien Fourmaux were seventh and eighth. Both drivers gained a position at the expense of Fourmaux’s M-Sport teammate Craig Breen, who also had tire dramas after hitting a hole during Sunday morning’s opening loop.
Breen eventually finished ninth overall as his co-driver, fellow Irishman Paul Nagle, bowed into retirement from the sport’s top level on his 102nd WRC start. Pierre-Louis Loubet, also driving a Puma, completed the leaderboard.
In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, Teemu Suninen ended his 2022 WRC2 victory drought with an assured drive to take the class win.
It was a case of third time lucky for the Finnish star, who’d come close to glory in Portugal and Finland, but was denied on both occasions with victory seemingly in his grasp. There was no stopping Suninen this time around, however, as he led almost from start to finish, in his Hyundai i20 N Rally2.
The Finn started Sunday’s four-stage finale 26.6s clear of second-placed Yohan Rossel. He was in no mood to compromise, either, and further extended that advantage to head home the French Citroen C3 driver by 32.5s.
In the battle for the WRC2 championship, Skoda Fabia Evo drivers Emil Lindholm and Kajetan Kajetanowicz finished fourth and sixth, respectively, ensuring that the fight will go down to the wire at next month’s Rally Japan. With dropped scores taken into account, both are effectively tied heading to the finale.
That finale sees Japan return to the WRC for the first time since 2010. Moving to an all-asphalt format for the first time, the Toyota City-based event takes place Nov. 10-13.
WRC Rally Spain, final positions after Day Three, SS19
1 Sebastien Ogier/Benjamin Veillas (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) 2h44m43.9s
2 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +16.4s
3 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +34.5s
4 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +44.0s
5 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +1m16.5s
6 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +1m51.1s
7 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +2m19.1s
8 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +2m38.4s
9 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +2m43.0s
10 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Vincent Landais (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +3m25.1s
WRC Drivers’ Championship after 12 rounds
1 Rovanpera 255 points
2 Tanak 187
3 Neuville 166
4 Evans 124
5 Katsuta 106
WRC Manufacturers’ Championship after 12 rounds
1 Toyota Gazoo Racing 503 points
2 Hyundai Motorsport 410
3 M-Sport Ford 238
4 TGR Next Generation 122
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