PHOTO: Thierry Neuville holds a distant second place after the first leg of Rallye de France-Tour de Corse (Hyundai pic)
SÉBASTIEN Ogier completed a clean sweep of wins in Friday’s opening leg stages of the Che Guevara Energy Drink Tour de Corse to build a strong lead in pursuit of his fourth world drivers’ title.
He won all four twisty and bumpy asphalt special stages on the Mediterranean island in a Volkswagen Polo R, completing the first of three days’ competition with a 44.0sec lead over Thierry Neuville’s Hyundai i20 after almost 160km of action.
Under clear skies and in high temperatures which demanded skilful tyre and brake management, Ogier showed a degree of caution but still opened a 14.7sec lead in the morning’s two stages in the mountains near Ajaccio. Victory in both tests when they were repeated put the Frenchman into a dominant position.
“We made no mistakes, a tough but enjoyable day,” he said. “I really enjoyed the beautiful stages and beautiful weather.”
Handling problems frustrated Neuville in the morning. With the balance improved in the afternoon, the Belgian was happier, despite overheating his tyres in the final test after attacking too hard.
Jari-Matti Latvala filled the final podium place in a Polo R, 14.0sec behind Neuville. A mix of set-up issues and an over-cautious approach left the Finn in seventh midway through the leg, but a much-improved afternoon catapulted him into third.
His advantage over fourth-placed teammate Andreas Mikkelsen was 1.3sec. The Norwegian’s problems were mainly physical – his left foot “going to sleep” due to a vibration feeding back through his Polo R’s brake pedal.
Craig Breen and Hayden Paddon completed the top six. Breen had a troublefree day in Citroën’s DS 3 in contrast to Kiwi Paddon.
Inconsistent pace notes that were too fast in places and too slow in others sapped Paddon’s confidence initially. Overheating tyres and two punctures in the final two stages added to his woes as the Kiwi ended 7.5sec adrift of Irishman Breen.
Ogier’s closest challenger in the morning was Kris Meeke. The Ulsterman held second until a puncture early in the penultimate stage forced him to stop and change it and he ended in 11th.
After overnighting in Bastia, drivers face169.04km of bumpy mountain roads tomorrow, comprising two identical loops of two stages in the north of the island.
Provisional standings after Day One:
1. Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (F/F), Volkswagen, 1h 37m 52.8s
2. Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (B/B), Hyundai, + 44.0s
3. Jari-Matti Latala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN), Volkswagen + 58.0s
4. Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jæger (N/N), Volkswagen, + 59.3s
5. Craig Breen/Scott Martin (GB/GB), Citroën, + 1m 18.7s
6. Hayden Paddon/John Kennard (NZ/NZ), Hyundai, + 1m 26.2s
7. Eric Camilli/Benjamin Veillas (F/F), Ford, + 2m 00.7s
8. Elfyn Evans/Craig Perry (GB/GB), Ford, + 2m 36.3s
9. Dani Sordo/Marc Martí (E/E), Hyundai, + 2m 39.1s
10. Mads Østberg/Ola Fløene (N/N), Ford, + 2m 41.9s