French driver could clinch WRC title in Australia
COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) — France’s Sebastien Ogier could clinch the World Rally Championship if he wins Rally Australia and his closest pursuer — Belgium’s Thierry Neuville — finishes outside the top two on the gravel roads around this northern New South Wales state town.
With four rounds remaining, the 29-year-old Ogier leads the standings by 75 points over Neuville. The 22-stage, 354-kilometer (218-mile) Rally Australia begins Thursday with a special stage and ends Sunday.
Ogier’s first championship would mark the 10th consecutive “Sebastien” from France to win the title.
Sebastien Loeb, who won nine successive titles from 2004-12, is only contesting a few of this year’s 13 rounds.
It’s the second time the rally has been held in Coffs Harbour, which is 540 kilometers (335 miles) north of Sydney. The first was in 2011, with Rally Australia then alternating with Rally New Zealand on the WRC schedule.
Ogier, who finished 11th here in 2011, likes his chances of clinching the title on Sunday in his Volkswagen Motorsport entry.
“Of course I think about it, because it’s been my target for a long time now,” Ogier said. “This weekend I’ve got a good chance to secure it and I definitely come here to try to do that, and it means I’m here to try to get the victory.”
Qatar World Rally team driver Neuville doesn’t think he can’t catch Ogier.
“This year I think not,” Neuville said. “But it’s not really my aim because if I could finish this championship now in second position, in only my second (full) year, I think this would be already a great effort and a great result for us.”
The rally will be held on mostly gravel roads in the forested area around Coffs Harbour, with the exception being mixed surface super special stages on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.
The special stages will feature two cars at a time with simultaneous starts on opposite sides of a former velodrome oval, then racing out on to surrounding streets before finishing in the oval.