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FRENCH driver Sebastien Ogier has delivered a milestone victory for Volkswagen in Rally Sweden on just the second start for its Polo R WRC in the FIA World Rally Championship.
Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia finished in Karlstad on Sunday afternoon 41.8 seconds ahead of nine-time champion Sebastien Loeb, who attacked until the end in his Citroen DS3 but had declared as early as Friday that his former teammate was unbeatable.
Ford’s Mad Ostberg clinched third place in his Qatar M-Sport Fiesta RS after an event-long battle with the second Volkswagen driver, Jari-Matti Latvala, who was fourth.
Ogier, 29, led from Friday morning and won 10 of the 22 stages on one of the world’s fastest rallies despite extreme conditions of snow, ice and minus-20 degree temperatures.
His faultless performance gave early notice he and Volkswagen Motorsport will be the ones to beat for the driver’s and manufacturer’s titles.
Ogier now leads the standings after finishing second to Loeb in Rallye Monte-Carlo last month and picking up three bonus points for winning the Power stage in Sweden.
But the formerly-dominant Loeb will contest only two more rounds in his swan-song season, while fancied front-runners Latvala and Citroen leader Mikko Hirvonen have failed to score significant points so far.
Winning on only its second outing was a major achievement for the new Volkswagen team, fielded by Europe’s largest automotive group to promote its roadgoing cars via the world’s most challenging motorsport series.
After kissing his car at the end of the final stage, a jubilant Ogier paid tribute to his team.
“I’ve never had a car like that. Unbelievable,” he said.
“The win here was amazing but also a big surprise. We have spent so much time and effort with the team in preparation – all of last year – but we never expected to have this performance so soon.
“This morning Sebastien was putting a lot of pressure on. He was flying into the stages. We tried to follow him without maximum risk but we had to push because he was so fast. To win like that is amazing.”
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Loeb was left ruing a poor result on the pre-rally Qualifying Stage, which determined the early running order.
“We lost a lot because of that I think. We didn’t get a good road position, then we changed the car set-up to try and improve things but that led to two mistakes on the first day and the loss of about 30-seconds.
“Okay, Sebastien Ogier didn’t make any mistakes. He has done the perfect rally. There was nothing more I could do.”
Mads Ostberg equalled his 2012 Sweden result, although the 25-year-old Norwegian – part of a new generation of young drivers adding interest to this year’s championship – had to overcome a mechanical problem on Friday and relentless pressure from the more experienced Latvala.
Latvala was disappointed, but perhaps less so than Mikko Hirvonen, who lost time after rolling his Citroen on day one and was classified 17th.
The next destination on the WRC’s 13-nation journey could not be more different from Sweden.
Rally Guanajuato Mexico will be the season’s first gravel-surface event. Instead of snow, teams based at Leon, 330 kms north of Mexico City, will have deal with dust and thin mountain air that saps the power of their engines.
The rally will focus Australian interest in the WRC, with Gold Coast driver Chris Atkinson joining the Citroen Total Abu Dhabi team in a one-off appearance, replacing Qatari Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi.
Action from the 2013 FIA WRC is broadcast in Australia on SPEED TV. Check local guides for times.
RESULTS, Rally Sweden (WRC Rd 2)
1 S. Ogier/J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen) Total time 3hr 11min 41.9sec
2 S. Loeb/D. Elena (Citroen) Gap to first + 41.8 sec
3 M. Ostberg/J. Andersson (Ford) + 1:24.5
4 J. Latvala/M. Anttila (Volkswagen) 1:30.6
5 T. Neuville/N. Gilsoul (Ford) 5:06.4
6 J. Hanninen/T. Tuominen (Ford) 5:43.1
7 M. Prokop/M.Ernst (Ford) 11:25.4
8 H. Solberg/E. Axelsson (Ford) 11:42.7
9 E. Novikov/I. Minor (Ford) 13:04.7
10 Y. Al Rajhi/M. Orr (Ford) 16:27.0
Driver standings (after Rd 2)
1 Sebastien Ogier 46 points
2 Sebastien Loeb 43
3 Mads Ostberg 24
4 Dani Sordo 15
5 Jari-Matti Latvala 14
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About Rally Australia
Rally Australia on 12-15 September 2013 will be the 22nd WRC event in Australia and the third since it moved to New South Wales from Western Australia. The 2011 rally attracted more than 13,000 individual visitors to the Coffs Coast, generating more than 64,000 bed nights and a net economic impact of $14.8 million, according to Destination NSW. The shire and forestry roads of the Coffs Harbour, Nambucca, Bellingen and Clarence Valley local government areas provide a true challenge for the WRC drivers against a magnificent backdrop of subtropical coastal and hinterland scenery.
About the FIA World Rally Championship
The FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) is widely regarded as the world’s most challenging motorsport championship. Rounds in 13 countries pit drivers in highly-modified versions of popular production cars over a series of timed “special stages” on surfaces varying from gravel and asphalt to snow and ice. Started in 1973, the WRC over the years has been a battleground for makes including Toyota, Subaru, Ford, Citroen, Fiat, Audi, Mitsubishi, Mini and Peugeot. Volkswagen and Hyundai are poised to join the series, which attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators in some countries and a huge global television audience. The WRC is regulated and controlled by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the governing body for motorsport worldwide.
For further information, please contact:
Ben Rainsford Chris Nixon
Chairman Media Manager
Rally Australia M. +61 418 759 417
M. +61 419 816 227 E. [email protected]