Manor thrilled as Roberto Merhi finishes Malaysian GP

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Simply finishing a grand prix may not seem like a great achievement to some, but for Manor Marussia F1 Team, it meant the world as Roberto Merhi took the checkered flag in the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday.

Following a winter of uncertainty, the ex-Marussia operation was saved thanks to fresh investment, allowing the team to get out on track for the first time in practice on Friday.

Despite failing to finish inside the 107% time required to qualify, the race stewards gave Manor drivers Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens permission to race on Sunday.

Stevens failed to make the start following a fuel system problem on his car, but Merhi produced a fine display to finish the race, with the 53-lap run being the longest that the team has managed by far.

“I’m so happy for the team,” Merhi said. “P15 is not only a great result from today’s race, but also a huge reward for a fantastic effort over the past few months. I’m really proud of us.

“Coming into the weekend we knew things would not be easy; we had to work very hard and stay focused every step of the way. We missed out on some of our targets but in the end it was the race that mattered and we brought the car home with a full race distance.

“That was my main objective, as the information we now have is so important for our development, but it’s good to know that we got a good result along the way and finished ahead of some of the other teams.”

Team principal John Booth echoed Merhi’s sentiments, believing that it was a just reward for the team after all of its work over the winter.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled to see the checkered flag today,” Booth said. “We’ve had to overcome some massive hurdles in a very short space of time, so everyone is pretty emotional this afternoon.

“This result is just reward for an incredible amount of hard work and determination from a fantastic team of people.”

Manor will now be hoping to carry this form into the next race in China, where we will hopefully see both of its cars on the grid and racing.

Sebastien Ogier in driver’s seat for sixth straight World Rally Championship title

Sebastien Ogier leads the way in the WRC title chase. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) — Thierry Neuville finished the sixth stage of Rally Australia on Friday without a rear left tire, damaging his chances of catching five-time defending champion Sebastien Ogier for the World Rally Championship title.

The Belgian driver entered the rally just three points behind Ogier in the closest title fight in 15 years.

He held the upper hand on his French rival, building a near-10 second gap through the first five stages at Coffs Harbour before hitting a chicane and finishing the stage with only three tires on his Hyundai.

Neuville was fortunate the puncture occurred late enough in the day to finish all six forestry stages and avoid a retirement. But the mistake cost him 40 seconds and gave Ogier, who is 33 seconds ahead of him, a clear run at his sixth straight championship.

In his last start with Ford before a move to Citroen next year, Ogier struggled as the first to drive the dusty, slippery forest routes.

“I pushed like crazy, I was on the limit over the jump and everywhere, I can’t do (any) more,” Ogier said. “I was on the limit.”

With Ogier on sweeping duties the back markers flourished, and Mads Ostberg took the lead in his return to the series.

Ostberg was forced to miss the previous round in Spain to make way for rally winner and nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb, who was making the last of his three guest appearances for Citroen.

Now back in the seat, Ostberg leads Jari-Matti Latvala by 6.8 seconds in the Australian rally, with sixth-stage winner Craig Breen in third.

Ogier was seventh, 38.2 seconds off the pace, but only needs to finish ahead of Neuville to claim the championship title. Neuville is in 10th place after six stages.

Roles will reverse on Saturday, with Ogier to start further back in the field and do his best on cleaner roads to make up the day-one deficit before Sunday’s final stages.

Andreas Mikkelsen, the 2016 Rally Australia champion, was an early dropout after rolling into a ditch in his Hyundai. Mikkelsen had only just avoided a tractor that had found its way onto the course.

Former winner Molly Taylor and co-driver Malcolm Read were also forced out of their event when their Subaru hit a hay bale at high speed on the morning’s second stage. Both reported soreness but suffered no serious injuries.

The 24-stage rally totals 319 kilometers (197 miles). Ten stages are scheduled Saturday with the final six on Sunday, most of them through forests on the New South Wales state’s north coast about 530 kilometers (325 miles) north of Sydney.