SÉBASTIEN Ogier all but secured his fourth consecutive FIA World Rally Championship title after passing Dani Sordo to lead RallyRACC Catalunya – Rally de España on Saturday.
Andreas Mikkelsen, second in the series, crashed in the afternoon to leave Ogier with one hand on the crown. Only Thierry Neuville can deprive him but the Belgian, third in the rally, must claim maximum points and Ogier fail to score for the Frenchman to be denied.
Ogier dented Sordo’s dream of becoming the first Spaniard to win his home rally for 21 years by ending the penultimate leg of the four-day mixed surface event with a 5.8sec lead in his Volkswagen Polo R. Neuville was a further 58.1sec behind in a Hyundai i20.
Saturday was hot and sunny, in contrast to Friday’s torrential rain. The special stages also were different, the mud-caked gravel tracks replaced by fast, wide and smooth asphalt.
Initially Sordo defended his 17.0sec lead in his Hyundai i20, but Ogier trimmed it to 7.7sec by the mid-leg service with two stage wins. Three more fastest times followed in the afternoon to leave Ogier sitting pretty.
“Dani was strong and very hard to catch,” Ogier said.
“We managed to come back and had some good times but I knew it would be tough. Sunday will be exciting again and we’ll have to continue in the same way tomorrow.”
Sordo struggled with understeer and even reduced his pace to try to improve grip.
“I’m very disappointed to lose the fight but what can I do?” he said.
Mikkelsen was distanced by the leading duo and slipping towards Neuville’s clutches when his Polo R drifted into a barrier in a fast right corner before rolling heavily. The Norwegian and co-driver Anders Jaeger were unhurt.
Neuville, like Sordo, was frustrated by his i20’s handling. He made set-up changes mid-leg but reverted to settings close to those used in the morning when the understeer persisted.
Hayden Paddon made it three i20s in the top four. He was 16.1sec behind Neuville and suffering similar handling issues, but finished 37.9sec ahead of Kris Meeke. The Citroën DS 3 driver lost time with a puncture and survived a 360 degree fifth-gear spin which ripped off his car’s front bumper.
Overall classification after Saturday:
1 S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) 2:35:12.8
2 D. Sordo / M. Martí (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +5.8
3 T. Neuville / N. Gilsoul (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +1:03.9
4 H. Paddon / J. Kennard (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +1:20.0
5 K. Meeke / P. Nagle (Citroën DS3 WRC) +1:57.9
6 M. Østberg / O. Floene (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +2:35.7
7 O. Tanak / R. Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +4:24.7
8 K. Abbring / S. Marshall (Hyundai i20 WRC) +6:22.7
9 M. Prokop / J. Tomanek (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +7:13.3
10 J. Kopecky / P. Dresler (Škoda Fabia R5) +7:41.6