Coffs Harbour - Only three points separate Sebastien Ogier
and Thierry Neuville after 12 rounds and thousands of kilometres as the world
rally championship goes to the wire in Australia this week.
In one of the closest seasons in years, France's five-time
world champion Ogier has the edge after deposing the Belgian driver from the
top spot by coming second at last month's Rally of Catalonia.
Neuville could only finish fourth after hitting a rock on
the final stage with the sport's greatest driver Sebastien Loeb throwing a
spanner in the championship works by winning and denying Ogier maximum points.
Loeb, who has a record nine world titles, has started only a
handful of events since retiring from full-time rallying in 2012. He was only
racing a three-event programme this year and is not competing in Australia.
Neuville being bumped from the top of the standings in Spain
could be a blessing in disguise.
It means defending world champion Ogier must run first on
the opening day of the finale in Coffs Harbour on Friday, effectively sweeping
the hot, dry gravel roads clear for the cars behind and allowing his rivals
"I would rather keep my position," insisted the
M-Sport Ford driver.
"If you have the points, you have the points, but if
you have to score them it is a different story. He (Neuville) will have an
advantage at the start, but the pressure is on him."
World Rally Championship rules require drivers ahead in the
standings to start early in the order on the first day. While they are
disadvantaged in dry conditions, the position is reversed when wet roads slow
Ogier won the rally in both 2014 and 2015, having been first
on the road on day one both times.
Hyundai's Neuville, who won in Australia last year and is
gunning for his first world drivers' title, said he was happy someone else will
be cleaning the road after his stint at the top of the rankings.
"I think it is better to be second and be just a few
points behind," he said.
"If I get a problem then okay, he will be champion. But
at least I think it is not the most uncomfortable position to be in and the gap
is small, so it will be interesting."
Estonian Ott Tanak also has an outside shot at the title,
after slipping 23 points behind Ogier by finishing sixth in Spain.
The manufacturers' title is also on the line.
Toyota Gazoo Racing leads with 331 points, but with 43
available for a one-two finish both Hyundai Shell Mobis (319 points) and
M-Sport Ford (306 points) can still snatch the honours.