Sebastien Ogier has closed to just three points behind Citroen teammate Sebastien Loeb in the World Rally Championship title battle after a home victory on Rallye de France, his fifth win of the year.
Loeb had retired with an engine failure on just the third stage of the rally, allowing nearest rivals Ogier and Mikko Hirvonen to take advantage. Ogier took the rally lead on Saturday afternoon after an intense three-way battle with Mini's impressive Dani Sordo and Citroen privateer Petter Solberg.
Ogier maintained his lead over Sordo through the final day's stages, winning the rally with an advantage of 6.3 seconds. Sordo had been able to take some time out of the Frenchman on the final day but it was not enough. Solberg lost time with a puncture on Saturday and so had to settle for third place.
Hirvonen was unable to match the pace of the frontrunners throughout the weekend, and lost time with a couple of errors on Friday. He took fourth place after Ford teammate Jari-Matti Latvala checked in early ahead of the final stage and took a two minute penalty to drop behind his fellow Finn.
He did have some consolation though when he won the power stage ahead of Sordo. Ogier was third matching Hirvonen's time, but receiving what could be an all-important bonus point. Both are tied for second place overall, three points behind Loeb with two rallies remaining.
Dennis Kuipers produced a fine performance to earn a career-best sixth in his FERM Fiesta ahead of Henning Solberg. Armindo Araujo had been set for seventh in his privateer Mini until crashing out on Sunday morning. Solberg's M-Sport Stobart teammate and fellow Norwegian Mads Ostberg came home eighth after picking up his third puncture of the rally on the power stage.
Ken Block scored his second WRC points finish and his first since Spain last year as he got the better of French federation-backed youngster Pierre Campana in their battle over ninth place. Matthew Wilson struggled for pace on tarmac all weekend and could only manage 11th.
Ott Tanak took a dominant SWRC win in 12th overall, while points leader Juho Hanninen crashed. The Finn maintained his points lead though by restarting on Sunday morning and taking fifth in class.
Meanwhile Alistair Fisher was handed the WRC Academy win after Yeray Lemes was penalised for speeding offences in liaison sections.
Final top ten results:
|1.||2||Sebastien Ogier||Citroen Total||Citroen DS3 WRC||3:06:20.4|
|2.||37||Dani Sordo||Mini||Mini John Cooper Works WRC||+6.3|
|3.||11||Petter Solberg||PSWRT||Citroen DS3 WRC||+1:23.8|
|4.||3||Mikko Hirvonen||Ford Abu Dhabi||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+3:26.6|
|5.||4||Jari-Matti Latvala||Ford Abu Dhabi||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+3:30.3|
|6.||9||Dennis Kuipers||Ferm||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+6:42.0|
|8.||15||Henning Solberg||M-Sport Stobart||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+7:08.3|
|9.||6||Mads Ostberg||M-Sport Stobart||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+7:58.3|
|9.||43||Ken Block||Monster||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+8:25.5|
|10.||55||Pierre Campana||Equipe de France||Mini John Cooper Works WRC||+8:38.7|
Drivers’ standings after 11 of 13 rounds:
1. Sebastien Loeb, 196 points
2. Sebastien Ogier, 193
3. Mikko Hirvonen, 193
4. Jari-Matti Latvala, 129
5. Petter Solberg, 125
6. Mads Ostberg, 60