FILE PHOTO: Estonian driver Ott Tanak celebrates with the team members and champagne after winning the Neste Rally in Jyvaskyla, Finland, August 4, 2019. Lehtikuva/Hannu Rainamo /via REUTERS
(Reuters) – A Frenchman called Sebastien has won every world rally championship since 2004 but Toyota’s Ott Tanak could end that 15-year sequence in Spain on Sunday.
Sebastien Loeb won nine titles in a row between 2004 and 2012 before Sebastien Ogier took over and continued the run with six more in succession.
Estonian Tanak ended Saturday’s penultimate stage of the Rally of Spain in third place, 24.6 seconds behind Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville and 3.1 adrift of the Belgian’s local team mate Dani Sordo.
Loeb, also driving a Hyundai, was fourth and a mere 0.6 seconds behind Tanak. Citroen’s Ogier was in a distant eighth place.
Four asphalt stages, totaling 74.14km, will be held on Sunday near Salou, on the Catalan coast to the south-west of Tarragona.
As things stand, Tanak can secure his first title with a round to spare if he also banks bonus points from the closing power stage.
At present he is 28 points ahead of Ogier and 41 ahead of Neuville, who needs to score 12 more than the Estonian to take the fight down to Australia.
“Tanak has been fast and we were always going to see a spirited reaction from him as he tries to clinch the drivers’ title,” said Hyundai team boss Andrea Adamok.
“We can only focus on our job, and our crews have done everything they can.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Clare Fallon