BIDDING for his third straight FIA World Rally Championship, Frenchman Sébastien Ogier won seven of Friday’s eight tests to lead ADAC Rallye Germany after the opening leg.
He headed teammate Jari-Matti Latvala by 9.5sec, while Andreas Mikkelsen completed a Volkswagen Polo R 1-2-3 a further 25.4sec back, WRC.com reported.
The event is Round 9 of the WRC and immediately precedes Coates Hire Rally Australia in three weeks’ time.
Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia have a mathematical chance of winning their third respective championships this weekend, but the odds are better to get their rewards in Australia.
Ogier’s statistical dominance did not tell the full story of an intriguing day on asphalt close to the Belgian border and in the Mosel vineyards near Trier.
He won the first two stages but Latvala claimed the third and ended the morning 0.1 sec. ahead.
But Ogier fine-tuned his car’s set-up and won all four afternoon tests to regain the initiative and pull clear.
“I had a great afternoon, it was really good fun. It’s a long time since I pushed so hard on asphalt. I found a better set-up for the afternoon, but Jari-Matt isn’t far behind so we have to keep going the same way tomorrow,” he said.
Latvala was frustrated by the conditions. Dirt dragged onto the roads in the morning left them slippery when repeated in the afternoon and he felt uncomfortable cutting corners to shave off tenths of a second.
Mikkelsen started cautiously but a string of third fastest times kept him ahead of Kris Meeke until a mistake from the Ulsterman handed the Norwegian breathing space.
Meeke was caught out by a patch of gravel in SS6 and slithered into a field. He regained the road but a broken front left susension strut cost more than nine minutes as he limped Citroën’s DS 3 through the rest of the day.
Hyundai teammates Dani Sordo and Thierry Neuville traded places on four occasions as they duelled for fourth. Third in the final stage for Sordo secured the place by 1.9sec, the only test when Volkswagen failed to lockout the top three.
Elfyn Evans was sixth in a Ford Fiesta RS despite an early handbrake issue, ahead of teammate Ott Tänak, who dropped 10sec after hitting gravel in a braking zone and understeering into a field.
New Zealander Hayden Paddon was eighth after feeling his way in his first full tarmac rally in a WRC car, Mads Østberg gained confidence late in the day to hold ninth and Stéphane Lefebvre rounded off the leaderboard on his World Rally Car debut in a Citroen DS3, despite a mistake at a penultimate stage chicane.
Robert Kubica started with a five-minute penalty after an engine change following Thursday’s shakedown. The Pole went off the road into the vines in the final stage, stopping shortly afterwards to kick out the damaged windscreen in his Fiesta RS.
Drives face a marathon day on Saturday with more than 13 hours behind the wheel and 170.79km of action. It includes five stages on the daunting Panzerplatte military roads at Baumholder.