Torrential rain threatened to undo all the Belgian’s good work yesterday as the New South Wales forest roads became a muddy mess.
But he held off determined challenges from Finland’s Jari-Matti Latvala and Estonia’s Ott Tänak to win the 2017 finale by 22.5sec.
It added to previous successes in France, Argentina and Poland and made him the most successful driver of the season in terms of wins. But he had to settle for second in the points for the third time in five years.
Neuville took the lead when Hyundai i20 team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen retired after hitting a bank and puncturing two tyres. He carried a seemingly comfortable 20.1sec lead into today’s speed tests north of Coffs Harbour.
Rain drenched the long Bucca special stage and Latvala halved the deficit to eye the opportunity of a late victory bid.
Neuville threw caution to the wind to regain vital seconds, made all the more important when the penultimate test was cancelled due to the weather.
“That was a hell of a ride! I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input,” said Neuville.
Latvala looked secure in second but crashed his Toyota Yaris in the final live TV Power Stage, promoting Tänak to runner-up in a Ford Fiesta.
Second for Tänak in his final event for M-Sport World Rally Team before joining Latvala at Toyota Gazoo Racing in 2018, preserved the title-winning British squad’s record of a podium on all 13 rounds.
Hayden Paddon ended a miserable campaign with third in another i20. He capitalised on an error by Craig Breen, who rolled his Citroën C3 into retirement when on course for his best result of the season.
Sébastien Ogier, who clinched his fifth consecutive title last month, completed the season with a low-key fourth in a Ford Fiesta. Gearshift problems blighted his weekend and a timing error added to his woes today with a 60sec penalty.
Elfyn Evans struggled for grip all weekend but the Welshman’s persistence was rewarded with fifth ahead of Esapekka Lappi.
Kris Meeke, returning to action after breaking his C3’s suspension yesterday was seventh. Local drivers Nathan Quinn, Richie Dalton and Dean Herridge completed the leaderboard.
1. T Neuville / N Gilsoul BEL Hyundai i20 2hr 35min 44.8sec
2. O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Ford Fiesta + 22.5sec
3. H Paddon / S Marshall NZL Hyundai i20 + 59.1sec
4. S Ogier / J Ingrassia FRA Ford Fiesta + 2min 27.7sec
5. E Evans / D Barritt GBR Ford Fiesta + 3min 05.6sec
6. E Lappi / J Ferm FIN Toyota Yaris + 3min 49.5sec
Credits : Photos and content courtesy of Red Bull Media