Toyota driver finishes second behind Belgian rival Neuville to clinch crown.
Ott Tänak became the first Estonian to win the FIA World Rally Championship in a tense finale to Spain’s RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de España on Sunday afternoon.
He snatched second place in the closing Wolf Power Stage to secure the 2019 crown with a round to spare, ending a 15-year French domination by the sport’s most successful drivers, Sébastiens Loeb and Ogier.
It is Toyota’s first drivers’ title since Didier Auriol won in 1994 and follows the Japanese squad’s manufacturers’ championship success last year.
Tänak started the final asphalt speed test in third place. He needed to finish no lower than one position behind leader Thierry Neuville in the final bonus points-paying stage to prevent the Belgian carrying the fight into next month’s Australian finale.
He didn’t require the bonus points, sweeping past home hero Dani Sordo to claim second place in a Toyota Yaris and spark wild celebrations among the Estonian fans. He finished 17.2sec behind Neuville’s Hyundai i20, with Sordo, in another i20, a further 0.4sec adrift.
Tänak presented a calm figure throughout the championship’s only mixed surface event, but later revealed the stress he had carried.
“It’s difficult to say the pressure I felt this weekend - it was next level. To manage all this and get through it has been the target of my life. When you are on the verge of this you cannot imagine it,” said Tänak.
“I never wanted to take risks but my mother said yesterday evening that if I want something I can make it happen. I just had to make it happen.”
Neuville had led since Saturday morning in a bid to keep his title dream alive. His third victory of the season, allied with Sordo’s podium, enabled Hyundai Motorsport to extend its manufacturers’ championship lead to 18 points over Toyota Gazoo Racing.
As on Saturday, Loeb struggled for pace on the smooth flowing asphalt roads in Tarragona. Having led on Friday night, the Frenchman fell away from the podium battle to finish fourth in another i20, 36.3sec behind team-mate Sordo.
Jari-Matti Latvala bagged solid points for Toyota in fifth, the Finn ending 14.0sec clear of Elfyn Evans’ Ford Fiesta.
The season closes at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on November 14-17. The gravel event is based in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales.
RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de España result:
1. T Neuville / N Gilsoul BEL Hyundai i20 3hr 07min 39.6sec
2. O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Toyota Yaris +17.2sec
3. D Sordo / C del Barrio ESP Hyundai i20 +17.6sec
4. S Loeb / D Elena FRA Hyundai i20 +53.9sec
5. J-M Latvala / M Anttila FIN Toyota Yaris +1min 00.2sec
6. E Evans / S Martin GBR Ford Fiesta +1min 14.2sec
FIA World Rally Championship (after round 13 of 14):
1. O Tänak 263pts (new champion)
2. T Neuville 227
3. S Ogier 217