Photo: Ogier and Ingrassia, World Rally Champions
(7/10/2013) FRENCHMAN Sebastien Ogier has delivered a masterclass to his vanquished rivals in the FIA World Rally Championship, clinching the drivers’ title, recovering from fifth place in treacherous conditions and ultimately winning Rally de France on the biggest weekend of his career.
After a lacklustre Friday when the euphoria of Thursday night’s title win left him jaded and down in fifth, Ogier roared back into contention with a string of stage wins on Sunday’s final tests in his Volkswagen Polo R. Ogier started the leg as one of four drivers chasing victory, covered by just five seconds.
But he stamped his authority with a dominant win in the rain-soaked opening stage to build an advantage he managed through to the finish in Strasbourg.
He won by 12.2sec from Dani Sordo, revitalised in his Citroen DS3 following his win in Germany in August. Jari-Matti Latvala was a further 7.3sec behind in another Polo R, both having led before Ogier took control.
After the disappointment of missing their respective world titles by just one point at Coates Hire Rally Australia three weeks ago, Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia knew they were champions minutes before they even turned a wheel on Round 11 of the WRC.
Their only rival, Ford’s Thierry Neuville, running ahead of them in the starting order, failed to achieve an adequate result in the points-scoring Power Stage to keep him in the fight.
Ogier struggled to contain his emotions as he drove the Power Stage, then the celebrations erupted as he returned to the Volkswagen team service area.
“I am absolutely overjoyed! I could give everyone in the world a big hug,” he said. “The feeling is impossible to describe. To have won the World Championship title in France is an absolute dream come true.
“As a little boy, I used to marvel at the cars and top drivers at the Rally Monte-Carlo with my father in my home town of Gap – and now Julien and I are World Rally Champions.
“There has been so much emotion this weekend. After the excitement of winning the title on Thursday, it was difficult to get back into the race. But we couldn’t stay like that all weekend and decided to react yesterday.
“We pushed to the maximum then and this morning we soon made a gap at the front. Then we had to bring the car home, which wasn’t easy in the rain and mud.”
Sordo led when Thierry Neuville dropped back with a puncture after sliding his Ford Fiesta RS into a kerb. Although he could not fend off Ogier, he was happy with second.
“There’s always disappointment when you finish second but it’s another podium in a rally in which we were fighting all the time for first,” Sordo said.
“When you’re in the car and see how difficult it is to take just one second back, and Ogier is 15sec ahead, you have to be realistic. We pushed, but Ogier is champion for a reason.”
Latvala was relieved after a troubled run of rallies.
“I didn’t make a single mistake here, it was my most consistent rally for a long time. I’ve had a lot of pressure lately after mistakes in Finland, Germany and Australia and it eats your mind,” he admitted.
There was no fairy tale ending to Sebastien Loeb’s WRC career. Having led the opening leg, the nine-time champion started the final day 5.0sec from the top and hopeful of celebrating a 79th victory at the final stage in his home town of Haguenau.
However, he rolled his Citroen DS3 into retirement 1km into the opening test. “I lost the rear in a fast right corner and then we had a spin and I finished in the ditch. And that was the race over.
“I would have preferred to have finished my last rally here, but it didn’t go according to plan,” said Loeb, who nonetheless added to his unparalleled record by claiming his 900th WRC stage win on Saturday.
Neuville was hugely disappointed at missing a maiden WRC win after leading by more than 16sec, but the Belgian recovered to finish fourth, almost a minute behind Latvala, and remains second in the drivers’ standings.
Evgeny Novikov avoided trouble to finish fifth in a Fiesta RS, but the Russian was almost two minutes behind Neuville and frustrated at being unable to find the speed he desired.
An unwell Mikko Hirvonen rarely matched the pace of the frontrunners but, apart from sliding off the road briefly on Sunday morning, he made no mistakes in his DS3 to take sixth.
Seventh was Andreas Mikkelsen in his first asphalt event in a Polo R with Mads Ostberg eighth in a Fiesta RS, despite losing a minute off the road.
The leaderboard was completed by WRC 2 winner Robert Kubica and Romain Dumas, after Martin Prokop retired his Fiesta RS with broken suspension.
The penultimate round of the WRC will be the mixed-surface Rally de Espana on 24-27 October.
RESULTS, Rallye de France (WRC Rd 11)
1 S Ogier/J Ingrassia (Volkswagen) 2h 53m 07.6s
2 D Sordo/C Del Barrio (Citroen) Gap to first +12.2s
3 J-M Latvala/M Anttila (Volkswagen) +19.5s
4 T. Neuville/N Gilsoul (Ford) +1m 14.1s
5 E Novikov/I Minor (Ford) +3:10.9
6 M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen (Citroen) +3:37.7
7 A Mikkelsen/P Nagle (Volkswagen) +4:04.2
8 M Ostberg/J Andersson (Ford) +4:35.2
9 R. Kubica/M Baran (Citroen WRC2) +9:31.4
10 R Dumas/D Giraudet (Ford) +11:55.8
Driver standings (after Rd 11)
1 S Ogier 238
2 T Neuville 143
3 J-M Latvala 125
4 Dani Sordo 117
5 M Hirvonen 111
Manufacturers standings (after Rd 11)
1 Volkswagen Motorsport 339
2 Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT 259
3 Qatar WRT 157
4 Qatar M-Sport 156
5 Abu Dhabi Citroen Total WRT 59