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Latvala heads Toyota one-two as Ogier’s title challenge on track

Written by  Nov 17, 2018

Jari-Matti Latvala has inched into the lead of Rally Australia after Saturday morning’s loop of stages, the Finn heading a Toyota charge with title contender Ott Tänak now hot on his heels in second. Just 3.2 seconds separate the team-mates with Mads Østberg dropping to third, having led into the day.

Today’s route is the longest with two runs through four stages, split by service, before the day climaxes with another visit to the coastal super special stage in Coffs Harbour. Having slipped to third last night, Latvala was on a mission and immediately jumped ahead of Craig Breen into second position after the first stage.

With a charging Tänak behind him, he remained focused on his own rally and overhauled Østberg in the third stage. Tänak is all too aware that only victory and maximum points in the Power Stage will give him any hope of the title; but even that depends on his Championship rivals’ positions.

The Estonian has given it everything and three of the four stage wins have moved him from fifth last night to second, conveniently behind his team-mate. Østberg admitted to a wrong tyre choice, making it hard to match the pace of the Toyota drivers and the dejected Norwegian arrived at the mid-leg service third, albeit just eight seconds behind Latvala.

Hayden Paddon retains fourth within the shuffled leaderboard, the Kiwi now in the groove and enjoying the beautiful Rally Australia stages. He remains in the fight, 12.3 seconds off the lead having won the day’s opening stage. Esapekka Lappi has moved into fifth at the expense of Craig Breen, who dropped time with a sticking throttle in the second stage. The Irish driver’s misfortune then continued in the following stage when he had a spin, clipped a tree stump and damaged the rear suspension. He then picked up further road penalties for arriving late at the final short stage and dropped to 10th.

Sebastien Ogier is sixth and crucially remains ahead of Thierry Neuville, who has hit problems this morning. The Belgian, who is chasing a maiden world title, has been crippled by running second on the dry gravel roads and then lost more time when he slid wide and had to work on a damaged suspension arm prior to the last stage of the loop. He is ninth and nearly a minute behind Ogier whose title challenge is currently on track. Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen are seventh and eighth respectively and Ogier will be relying on his two team-mates to keep ahead of Neuville.

Alberto Heller continues to head the FIA WRC 2 Championship and has a comfortable advantage over second-placed Armin Kremer after brother Pedro retired for unconfirmed reasons. Enrico Brazzoli returned under Rally 2 regulations today and the Italian continues his lonely drive in the WRC 3 category.

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