TOYOTA driver Ott Tanak moved closer to a maiden FIA World Rally Championship with a hard-earned Wales Rally GB win on Sunday, but he may have to wait until the closing round in Nambucca and the Coffs Coast next month to finally clinch the title.
Outright victory and on the points-paying power stage earned the Estonian maximum points on one of the toughest rallies of the season, with Hyundai's Thierry Neuville just 10.9 seconds behind in second place and defending champion Sébastien Ogier third.
Tanak's fifth win from the past seven rallies boosted his lead in the standings to 28 points over Ogier. He needs to increase the margin to 31 to secure the title at Rally RACC Catalunya-Rally de Espan in two weeks' time, but may be forced to a decider with Ogier at Kennards Hire Rally Australia which will be held in the Nambucca Valley and surrounds on November 14-17.
Tickets for Rally Australia, priced from $29 to $119, are available now from tickettek.com.
Highlights of the local event will include two nights of the harbourside Destination NSW Super Special Stage and a free concert by legendary rock band Dragon exclusively for four-day ticket-holders.
Muddy forest roads in north and mid-Wales, rain and fog meant Tanak had to be at his best in his Toyota Yaris to fend off Neuville and Ogier. They snapped at his heels after he claimed the lead from teammate Kris Meeke late on Friday night.
The Estonian held them at bay and the pair helped Toyota Gazoo Racing cut Hyundai Motorsport's manufacturers' championship lead to eight points.
"It was a long weekend with long days and short nights and a lot of pressure. I guess the gap was never bigger than 10 seconds and every stage I was on the limit," Tanak said.
"It was a hard one but it feels good at the moment. We still have two more rallies to go and we have seen plenty of drama in the past, so we need to keep focused."
Neuville, without a win since April, emerged as the closest challenger in his Hyundai i20. But in a rally where the time gaps were small despite the tricky conditions, the Belgian could not make inroads in Sunday's closing four stages close to the rally base in Llandudno.
Ogier completed the podium a further 12.9 seconds back. The Frenchman's hopes of a seventh-straight title slipped, but there are still 60 points available over the last two rounds.
"It's not a great result for us in terms of the championship with just two rounds to go, but we're going to keep fighting tooth and nail for as long as it remains possible mathematically to win the title," Ogier said.
Neuville is 41 points off the lead. He said: "The championship now moves onto Spain, where we know we have to outscore him (Tanak) to keep our own title hopes alive. Everything can happen in rallying, so we never give up."
Meeke led throughout Friday's first full day in his Yaris but could not reproduce the same pace over the weekend. He finished 11.8 seconds behind Ogier and a similar margin clear of the battle for fifth between Elfyn Evans and Andreas Mikkelsen.
The WRC moves to Rally RACC Catalunya-Rally de Espaa, the only mixed-surface fixture of the season, in Salou on October 24-27.