September 13, 2015

COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Sebastien Ogier joined some select company on the world rally circuit on Sunday and enhanced France's long dominance of the sport.

Ogier clinched his third World Rally Championship in a row on Sunday after winning Rally Australia for the third year running, taking the 2015 title with three events remaining.

It was Ogier's seventh win of the season and 31st WRC victory of his career that began in 2006.

He became just the fourth driver to win the world title three times, behind nine-time winner, countryman and former teammate Sebastien Loeb. Juha Kankkunen and Tommi Makinen, both of Finland, have each won four world titles.

Loeb won his nine titles in consecutive years from 2004, meaning French drivers have won the WRC title 12 years in a row.

Ogier had a .03-second lead over Northern Ireland's Kris Meeke to begin Sunday's final five stages, and won the opening speed stage by 2.5 seconds. That stretched his lead over Volkswagen teammate Jari-Matti Latvala, the driver closest to him in the overall standings, to 5.1 seconds. Going into the final stage, Ogier led Latvala by 11.2 seconds.

The 31-year-old Ogier finished the 17-stage, 311.36-kilometer (192.20-mile) rally in 2 hours, 59 minutes, 16.4 seconds; 12. 3 seconds ahead of Latvala. Meeke, in a Citroen, was third, 32.6 seconds behind Ogier.

Ogier and co-driver and fellow Frenchman Julien Ingrassia won eight of those stages, including the final seven.

''So far an amazing season, the best I have ever done,'' Ogier said as he jumped out of his car after winning the final stage. ''And this rally win is very significant. For sure it was the most difficult rally to open the roads on. On paper it was impossible to win but I was determined. It's the perfect way to secure the title.''

Latvala had some alternator issues during the final few stages.

''I'm happy to have been so consistent and to have made no mistakes,'' the Finnish driver said. ''Maybe on Friday and Saturday morning I was missing a little spark to fight for the victory. It wasn't enough. Seb has done an amazing job. He has been better than me.''

Meeke fumed at FIA officials on Saturday, angered by the decision to run a night stage in what he deemed unsafe conditions, but by Sunday was more satisfied.

''I've enjoyed my weekend, it's been good to find the rhythm over a whole weekend,'' the Northern Irishman said. ''Everybody knows there have been a few mistakes creeping in recently, so I'm very happy. And hats off to the Volkswagens.''

Ogier came into Rally Australia with a 93-point lead over Latvala, and with the 25 points he picked up for winning here, plus bonus points for winning power stages, put the championship out of reach for the Finnish driver.

After Rally Australia, Ogier has 235 series points, Latvala 134 and Andreas Mikkelsen of Norway 111.

With Volkswagen drivers the leading trio in the overall standings - Ogier, Latvala and Mikkelsen, who finished fourth in Australia - the German car company clinched the manufacturers championship for the third time in a row. Volkswagen needed a 129-point advantage over Hyundai and Citroen to seal it, and it left Australia 166 points clear.

The 11th of 13 championship rallies is set for the French island of Corsica from Oct. 1-4.

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