Volkswagen Motorsport teammates Sebastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala equally shared the eight stage wins on offer on the first day of Wales Rally GB, as they pulled out a commanding lead ahead of a battle for third.
The VW pair’s domination on the Friday running was complete, finishing – in whatever sequence – first and second on every stage except the opener where Andreas Mikkelsen made it a VW 1-2-3 with the second best time behind Ogier. However, as Ogier moved into an early lead, Mikkelsen’s rally went little further, sliding into a ditch under braking on second stage, the first on two runs on the Dyfi test. While – after some spectator assistance – the Norwegian was able to complete the stage his retirement was confirmed soon after due to suspension damage. Though his chances of a maiden WRC win – seemingly increased after his Shakedown topping performance yesterday – are gone he intends to return to the rally tomorrow under the Rally2 regulations.
With their junior teammate out of contention the rest of the day belonged to Ogier and Latvala in equal measure.
“We had a great battle with our team-mates and are separated by just a few seconds.” said Latvala. “That promises to make the next couple of days very exciting. This afternoon, it was as though some parts of the stages had been polished by the sheer number of cars in the field. This made it very slippery. It was tricky to judge the level of grip and know where to attack. It was hard work guiding the Polo R WRC through Wales, but also great fun.”
Defending Wales Rally GB winner Ogier looked on course to distance himself from his teammate after victories on the first two stages put him nearly ten seconds ahead, but a first stage win for Latvala, on the 24km Hafren Sweet Lamb test, set the cat and mouse tone for the rest of the day.
From stage to stage, or in the case of the second passage through Hafren Sweet Lamb, within a stage, the pair traded the fastest time. The final stage of the day indicated – as if necessary the narrow margins between the pair, Latvala fastest, but only by 0.2 seconds.
Even closer was the battle behind. After Mikkelsen’s early retirement Mads Ostberg took up third position but came under increasing pressure in the afternoon stages, as he struggled on the slippery and rutted stages. Mikko Hirvonen picked up third place after a second run through Dyfi, before Kris Meeke seized fourth on the final stage of the day.
However, such was the advantage presented to the VWs by running earlier on the roads – especially in the morning, that the battle for the lead had become a private affair, barring any incidents for the two leaders.
Theirry Neuville and Elfyn Evans recorded quiet, yet largely trouble free days, both men struggling with road conditions. Neuville’s performance was though the only bright spot of the Hyundai team as both Juho Hanninen and Hayden Paddon encountered problems.
Hanninen fell into retirement early in the first running of the Hafren Sweet Lamb test while Paddon completed much of the afternoon with little or no power steering after the pump on his i20 failed.
Ott Tanak, Henning Solberg and Martin Prokop completed the top ten overall, Solberg making a welcome appearance among the top stage times in the afternoon after a difficult morning during which his Fiesta ran down a cylinder for a time.