Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia secured a remarkable victory on Wales Rally GB, an event that saw so many twists and turns in the fight for both outright win and the Championship itself.
The Frenchmen fought back from setbacks on Friday to take their first win since the Tour de Corse in April and in doing so become the most successful crew in this history of Rally GB with five wins.
Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila looked set to spoil their party by taking the lead three stages before the end, but the Finns dropped time in the closing two stages to claim second, 10.6 seconds behind.
Their Toyota team-mates Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm rounded out the podium on another dramatic round of the Championship.
In the Drivers’ Championship, Thierry Neuville has managed to cling on to his lead, but by only finishing fifth, the Belgian’s advantage over Ogier has been slashed to just seven points with two rounds remaining.
Ott Tänak’s heartbreaking retirement yesterday means he drops from second to third, a further 14 points behind. In the Manufacturers’ Championship, another double podium for Toyota sees the Japanese marque extend its advantage over Hyundai to 20 points.
Four crews went into today’s closing five stages and 50 competitive kilometres in the fight for victory, with Ogier holding a slim advantage. He pushed hard over the slippery stages and maintained his lead over Latvala until the Power Stage, which unusually ran as the second of the five stages.
But, when Latvala picked up the maximum points for fastest time in this single stage, he leapt into a 3.6-second lead.
The battle continued through the following stages with Latvala leading after SS21 before Ogier’s fightback, and two stage wins that saw him inch ahead of the Finn. In doing so, he has significantly boosted his Championship hopes, and the battle looks set to go to the wire on the final round in Australia.
Behind Latvala and Lappi – who picked up a stage win today and his third podium of the season – Craig Breen finished an excellent fourth overall for Citroën.
The Irishman was on the outside of the four-way fight, but he lost 26 seconds with a spin in the Power Stage and dropped out of the battle.
After going off the road yesterday, Neuville managed to salvage fifth position and two points in the Power Stage, but the Belgian has lost significant ground at the head of the Championship table.
Team-mates Andreas Mikkelsen and Hayden Paddon finished sixth and seventh respectively, the three Hyundai drivers and Mads Østberg all in a close-knit group.
Østberg started the day fifth but gradually slipped back throughout the day, including with a spin, to finish eighth.
“It was a huge weekend, such a tough fight,” said Ogier. “Toyota was very strong; Ott was so far ahead before he had his trouble and then Jari-Matti was so strong. I didn’t know if I could stay in front in the forests, but asphalt is a surface I like, and we managed to secure the win.”
Kalle Rovanperä was another sensation of the event, the 18-year-old Škoda driver dominating the FIA WRC 2 Championship. He notched up his second WRC victory in just eight events to claim the win by more than 90 seconds over reigning category champion, Pontus Tidemand.
Tom Williams also took a commanding victory in WRC 3, the Briton’s winning margin nearly five minutes over Enrico Brazzoli.
The penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship takes the contenders to the mixed surface Rally de España (25-28 October), where the twists and turns of this year’s thrilling title battle will resume.
|1.||Sébastien Ogier||M-Sport Ford World Rally Team||3h:06m.12.5s|
|2.||Jari-Matti Latvala||Toyota GAZOO Racing WRT||+10.6s|
|3.||Esapekka Lappi||Toyota GAZOO Racing WRT||+35.1s|
|4.||Craig Breen||Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT||+1m.10.4s|
|5.||Thierry Neuville||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||+1m.14.4s|
|6.||Andreas Mikklesen||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||+1m.15.9s|
|7.||Hayden Paddon||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||+1m.18.4s|
|8.||Mads Østberg||Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT||+1m.21.6s|
|9.||Kalle Rovanperä||Škoda Motorsport II||+9m.14.7s|
|10.||Pontus Tidemand||Škoda Motorsport II||+10m.48.9s|