France’s Sebastien Ogier secured his seventh world rally championship on Sunday after winning the closing chapter of the coronavirus-disrupted season in Monza.
The Toyota driver went into the final rally looking set to be denied by his teammate and standings leader Elfyn Evans.
But the Welsh driver’s title hopes ended when he crashed in icy conditions on Saturday, leaving the path clear for Ogier and co-driver Julian Ingrassia to add to their previous rally crowns with Volkswagen and Ford.
“I knew there were still some hoops to jump through,” Ogier said of his showdown with Evans, who was going for his first title.
“Visibility was poor and it was a tough weekend and of course we are sorry for Elfyn.
“He has had a very solid and consistent season and we have had a lot of fun fighting him. I am sure that will be the case next year too!”
Ogier had said this season’s title was less important than others in a strange year dominated by the global pandemic.
“I’m very happy but I’m not jumping in the air as there are so many people who have suffered this year,” Ogier said after a rallying season severely disrupted by the coronavirus.
On the 2019 calendar there were 14 rallies with only seven on the 2020 roster, with 12 of them scheduled for next season.
Ogier won his first at Mexico, which went ahead controversially in mid-March, he would also win at Monza and take two second places as consistency saw him through.
Turkey’s dirt roads nearly did for him in September as Ogier plled out and had to watch Evans emerge from the dust as both winner and championship leader.
Ogier’s seventh title in eight seasons puts him on a par with Lewis Hamilton, who equalled Michael Schumacher’s record seven Formula One titles last month.
But he is still two shy of the nine rally titles captured by his compatriot and former mentor Sebastien Loeb.
Ogier was lagging 14 points behind Evans before Monza, announcing before Thursday’s’ first stage that “I’ve got nothing to lose, I’m going to throw everything at it”.
This seventh leg of a season that went into lockdown for five months combined stages at the iconic Formula One circuit with treacherous specials in the snowy hills of Bergamo.
It was on one of these stages on Saturday that Evans’s title challenge ended prematurely when his car slithered off the road.
Hyundai retained their constructors title thanks to deposed champion Ott Tanak and Dani Sordo making the podium.