Meeke and Breen back call to axe Aussie Rally
It was the only decision possible, but the cancellation of Rally Australia because of the bushfires which continue to rage in the New South Wales area brought disappointment for Kris Meeke and Craig Breen.
Both were fully in support of the decision but it meant Meeke's Toyota team did not have one last chance to defend their manufacturers' title, which now goes to Hyundai, and Breen missed out on a final opportunity to play his part for the new champions.
However, there was growing anger among the teams gathered at Coffs Harbour that it had taken so long for the organisers to bow to the inevitable and call off the rally as the fires consumed large areas of the nearby forests and cut off the main highway to Sydney.
Coffs Harbour's High Street was evacuated yesterday morning because of the smoke and many of the teams in the WRC service park, which sits on the outskirts of the city, were sent back to hotels because of the dangers of smoke inhalation.
Rally organisers had earlier issued a plan for a revised and substantially shortened itinerary away from the fires that they hoped would allow the event to still go ahead.
But key figures in the manufacturer teams were unhappy, feeling it would send out a wrong message to run the rally while TV was showing pictures of burned homes, exhausted firefighters and endangered wildlife.
When it was called off, the drivers left it to their teams to welcome the decision but both Meeke and Breen showed their support by retweeting their official statements.
Toyota said: "The cancellation of Rally Australia was the only right thing to do as our thoughts are with all those affected, their loved ones and people impacted by the devastating bushfires. We'd like to send our deepest respect to the firefighters protecting and keeping us safe."
New manufacturers' champions Hyundai said: "Feelings are mixed between joy for winning a maiden official WRC title and concern for residents affected by the NSW bushfires.
"This is the right decision because most important is the safety of everyone. Our thoughts are going to the local communities who have lost their loved ones or their homes and to the fire brigades fighting hard to keep everybody safe."
Although Toyota have lost the important manufacturers' title, they have their first drivers' champion in Ott Tanak having already clinched the series.
Meeke finishes in sixth place and attention now turns to the make-up of the teams for 2020. Toyota are already reeling from the blow of losing champion Tanak to Hyundai and it remains unclear who will replace him.
Kalle Rovanpera, the teenage WRC2 champion, has already signed and although there has been talk of six-time champion Sebastien Ogier jumping ship from troubled Citroen, that seems unlikely.
Former Ulster Rally winner Elfyn Evans, currently at M-Sport Ford, is believed to have had talks with team boss Tommi Makinen, who may have to make a choice between Meeke, Jari-Matti Latvala, the Welshman and possibly Breen.