Sebastien Ogier claimed his first ever WRC victory, after succesfully keeping multiple world champion team-mate Sebastien Loeb at bay for the last two days of competition.
The first stage went to plan for Loeb, taking six seconds out of his younger compatriot in the first stage. Loeb contiuned to take time out of Ogier in the second test, another 5 seconds, leaving a defecit of just over 10 seconds with two stages and a superspecial left.
The battle for third became more intense as well, after a faulty steering rack dropped Petter Solberg over 10 seconds to Dani Sordo and 13 seconds to Mikko Hirvonen, leaving the Norwegian’s position looking very precarious after the first stage. Indeed, the fault continued to hamper him through the second test, allowing Sordo to take the final podium place, and leave Hirvonen close behind, albeit still in 5th.
Ogier claimed he wasn’t giving it his all in the morning loop, and in the afternoon he proved his point. He lost only six tenths in SS16, but as the temperatures increased so did tyre wear. However Loeb was concerned he had worn his Pirellis out more than Ogier had.
“I’m not giving up, but it’s getting more and more difficult,” he said. His task was already hard – he had just two stages to make up almost 10 sec0nds – without last minute jitters from Ogier the task looked an impossible one, even for Loeb.
That turned out to be the case, with Loeb only able to find another 1.8 seconds though the last gravel stage before the rally-ending superspecial. Ogier even took two tenths out of Loeb in the superspecial, sealing a 7.9 second victory that will put Sordo’s future under intense pressure.
Solberg and Hirvonen were still close to the Spaniard – though not close enough to win on speed along. It would take a mistake from one of them to shake up the standings – and that is exactly what happened. Solberg slid wide and into the barriers on the final test, dropping enough time for Hirvonen to steal fourth place away.
“It's a fantastic feeling and I am very, very happy,” said an ecstatic Ogier. “It has not been easy with Sebastien behind me, pushing me all the time, but we also pushed hard for all of the rally and made no mistakes.”
Loeb was forced to admit defeat, and realised that Ogier was becoming a serious threat to his championship challenge; “I tried all the rally to beat him but he was just too fast,” he said. “On the second pass through the stages he was untouchable. I have a new rival now.”
Meanwhile there were also changes aplenty further down the leaderboard – Henning Solberg had been looking comfortable in 6th, but when his engine expired on the second stage of the day it left his Stobart Ford team-mate Matthew Wilson to pick up the pieces and secure the same position by the finish. Mads Ostberg eased his way to 7th despite a late engine scare when his dashboard lit up like a christmas tree, warning lights aplenty flashing at him after SS15.
Federico Villagra was once again the star of the superspecial, this time winning the stage he came so close in on the opening day, and secured 8th place, gapping the third works Focus of Khalid Al-Qassimi by nearly 20 seconds on the final day.
Taking the final points position was Kimi Raikkonen, struggling his way through the morning loop with a mis-handling car, followed by a puncture.
Jari Ketomaa clinced victory in the S2000 Cup with ease, despite a cracked exhaust dropping him time during the morning loop. Championship leader Xevi Pons took 2nd place, and Michal Kosciuszko rounded out the podium, despite picking up a puncture and driving into a ditch on SS15.
“We had a big lead today so it was important not to take any risks,” said Ketomaa. “We had a problem with the exhaust but fortunately I did not need to attack so it was not really a problem. This result is really good for the championship.”
Bernardo Sousa hung on to 4th and a Portuguese Rally Championship class victory, while in 5th was PG Andersson, after retiring on Saturday dropped him several minutes. Local wildcard Vitor Pascoal wasn’t far behind in 6th, and another SupeRally returnee was 7th, Nasser Al-Attiyah, and won all four gravel stages today.
“I was a bit disappointed from yesterday but it was a good morning for us and I really enjoyed it,” said Al-Attiyah. “I got the performance and the feeling back again and the support from the team has been good.”
In 8th and 9th were two drivers having a torrid weekend – firstly Janne Tuohino, who spun out on the day’s opening stage, dropping almost a minute in the process, and secondly Eyvind Brynildsen. The Norewgian’s Skoda Fabia was in a bad way, still suffering the same engine problem that had blighted him since the first day.
“The engine is damaged from Friday – there is no compression in the cylinders,” he said. “When it is slower and twisty it is okay but uphill or on a straight there's no pull from the engine so I have no chance. It is very frustrating but what can I do.”
The JWRC also had a quiet day – Kevin Abbring cruised to victory ahead of Karl Kruuda, with the recovering Aaron Burkart taking the final podium spot. Yeray Lemes brung his Clio R3 home in 4th, and while despite being classified second last and last in the overall standings, Egoi Valdes Lopez and Harry Hunt were 5th and 6th in class.
“It was a good result for us,” said Abbring. “We dropped from the lead to third place in Turkey, so this weekend it was my luck and Burkart had what we had in Turkey: he dropped from the lead to third place. It keeps the championship very exciting.”
Abbring and Burkart are now tied at the top of the championship, with a win and 3rd place each.
|1.||Sebastien Ogier||Citroen Junior Team||3:51:16.1|
|2.||Sebastien Loeb||Citroen Total WRT||+7.9|
|3.||Dani Sordo||Citroen Total WRT||+1:17.6|
|4.||Mikko Hirvonen||Ford World Rally Team||+1:32.0|
|5.||Petter Solberg||Solberg World Rally Team||+1:35.7|
|6.||Matthew Wilson||Stobart Ford||+7:10.1|
|7.||Mads Ostberg||Adapta Motorsport||+7:28.3|
|8.||Federico Villagra||Munchi’s Ford||+10:36.1|
|9.||Khalid Al Qassimi||Ford World Rally Team||+10:55.8|
|10.||Kimi Raikkonen||Citroen Junior Team||+11:34.3|