PHOTO: Andreas Mikkelsen is smiling after taking the fight to World Champion Sebastien Ogier in Poland (Volkswagen photo)
SEBASTIEN Ogier saw off a fierce challenge from teammate Andreas Mikkelsen to retain a narrow lead after day two of Lotos 71st Rally Poland, round seven of the FIA World Rally Championship.
The Volkswagen Motorsport drivers battled from the first to the last stage on Friday and the lead changed hands four times.
For once, Ogier’s road position at the head of the pack had benefited the Frenchman on stages that cut up very quickly – a problem that prompted organisers to cancel two stages in the afternoon. But Ogier left it until the final Mikolajki super special to steal back first place from the hard-charging Norwegian.
Ogier was faster on the 2.5km test for the second successive night to guarantee a vital 0.9s lead heading into Saturday’s 10 stages.
Mikkelsen was thrilled with his day and predicted there was more to come on Saturday.
“I (am) really enjoying driving on the stages today,” he said. “The feeling is great. If the same feeling is there tomorrow, we will try to keep the pressure on.”
The battle for other places behind the VW pairing was slightly less fierce. Mads Ostberg had leapt into third place earlier in the day when the rutted roads became a problem for the drivers running behind him.
He ended the day 18.6s behind Mikkelsen, but 12.5s ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala. Like Ogier, the VW-driving Finn had benefited from a high road position and moving up four positions on the leaderboard was a good return for his effort on day two.
A frustrated Kris Meeke came home in fifth place. He had dropped two places during the day, mostly because he lost speed negotiating the deep ruts that greeted his Citroen DS3 WRC on at least two of the stages.
“It’s frustrating when there’s nothing you can do with the ruts,” Meeke said.
“They must be a foot deep after only seven cars. It’s terrible.”
He was 6.8s ahead of Juho Hanninen who had another consistent day in his Hyundai i20 WRC.
Mikko Hirvonen spent the day battling against a set of pace notes that he deemed too slow for the fast gravel roads. He finished up in seventh place, 9.3s ahead of Robert Kubica’s identical Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
Elfyn Evans got the better of Thierry Neuville in a last-stage battle for ninth place. The Welshman took the place by 1.4s. Neuville tackled the final test without any rear brakes after the handbrake on his Hyundai locked on after the penultimate stage and caused the left-rear caliper to catch fire.
Stephane Lefebvre headed the race for second-day honours in the FIA Junior World Rally Championship.