PHOTO: Mikko Hirvonen went better in the afternoon after a set-up change (M-Sport pic)
JARI-Matti Latvala led Rallye de France-Alsace after Friday’s opening leg following a disastrous day for FIA World Rally Championship leader Sebastien Ogier.
Latvala, pursuing his maiden asphalt win, won four of the seven special stages in a Volkswagen Polo R to head teammate Andreas Mikkelsen by 8.2sec.
The Finn led after the opening test in the Vosges mountains, south-west of Strasbourg. Mikkelsen fought back to lead briefly, but set-up changes to Latvala’s car at the mid-leg service fuelled his confidence and he pulled clear in the afternoon.
“It’s my dream to win an asphalt rally and today was a good day towards that. The performance this morning was a little bit low, but in the afternoon it went well. Andreas is pushing me so tomorrow I need to drive in the same way,” said Latvala.
Mikkelsen finished 14.9sec ahead of Kris Meeke’s Citroen DS3 in third, but the leading trio’s delight was in contrast to Ogier’s despair.
He spun early in SS2 before a faulty gearbox sensor caused his Polo R’s engine to cut out.
Ogier lost 4min 30sec but was then hit with a four-minute penalty when co-driver Julien Ingrassia checked them into the following stage early as they battled to resolve the issue.
A broken front left shock absorber further delayed the pair in the afternoon and their hopes of securing a second consecutive drivers’ title this weekend appeared to be over.
Meeke was unable to match the VWs ahead but the Citroen DS3 pilot was again the best of the rest, 28.1sec clear of Dani Sordo’s Hyundai i20 in fourth.
The Spaniard, who won the final stage, headed a gaggle of four cars covered by less than 14sec.
Mads Østberg was fifth in a DS3, despite an afternoon transmission problem, with Mikko Hirvonen sixth in a Ford Fiesta RS, the Finn happier after changing the rear differential and stiffening the chassis.
Robert Kubica completed the quartet in seventh, despite a spin.
Bryan Bouffier and Martin Prokop were eighth and ninth with Elfyn Evans completing the leaderboard. Evans excelled in fourth until his car’s alternator failed en route to lunchtime service and he and co-driver Dan Barritt pushed the Fiesta into the time control. They incurred a 1min 40sec penalty for late arrival.
Thierry Neuville was 11th after losing time with a broken turbo in his Hyundai i20.
Saturday’s second leg is the longest, with 125.50km of competition. After a 6.30am restart, competitors complete two identical loops of three stages near Colmar, which hosts a 15-minute remote service. The day ends with a street stage in Mulhouse.