PHOTO: Mechanics pounce on Andreas Mikkelsen’s Polo R WRC in service. For Rally Poland the floor mats in Volkswagen’s service bays have been designed like World Cup soccer pitches (Volkswagen photo).
VOLKSWAGEN Motorsport’s Sebastien Ogier takes a narrow 2.8 second lead into day two of Lotos 71st Rally Poland today after a closely-fought first day in the Masurian region’s fast gravel stages.
The reigning world champion continued where he left off after his spectacular win at the recent Rally Italia Sardegna – by driving aggressively and pushing as hard as possible.
Again, the strategy paid off. Ogier’s Polo R WRC was fastest on two of Thursday’s three stages to head the leaderboard after 34.28km of competitive action.
For once, running first on the road wasn’t a major handicap for Ogier. “This is good fun – really fast,” he said. “I’m happy with the start of the rally and I couldn’t do any better. Tomorrow we will have to continue at this high rhythm and I’m looking forward to it.”
Ogier’s team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen filled second place at the end of the leg.
He led after the first two stages by driving neatly and keeping a cool head. But he eventually lost the lead to the hard-charging Ogier on the third stage – the 2.5km run around the Mikolajki super special.
Citroen’s Kris Meeke said he liked fast and flowing stages before the rally and it showed on the first cluster of stages. He was third overall, only 4.2s behind Mikkelsen.
“The nature of these roads is fantastic, the commitment is incredible,” Meeke said. “Paul (Nagle, Meeke’s co-driver) is calling the notes like he’s reading a Sunday paper.”
Juho Hanninen was fastest on the second stage and moved up to fourth plac
Local hero Robert Kubica had a mixed day. He was fourth after the first stage but he dropped down the order to 11th on the next test when his Ford Fiesta R WRC lightly rolled into a ditch.
Kubica’s rally was saved by an army of fans who pushed him back on to the road only seconds after his car came to rest. The incident only cost him 28.3s but he still finished the leg in 12th place.
With Kubica hitting problems, Hyundai’s Juho Hanninen grasped the opportunity with both hands. He guided his fast-improving i20 WRC to the quickest time on SS2 to move into fourth place, a place that he kept at the end of the leg.
Mads Ostberg’s Citroen DS3 WRC and Thierry Neuville’s Hyundai i20 WRC filled fifth and sixth places respectively. Ostberg was only 1.1s behind Hanninen, but Neuville found himself 12.2s adrift of his Norwegian rival. He would have been closer if the engine on his car hadn’t cut out part-way through the Mikoljaki super special.
Hyundai’s Hayden Paddon, from New Zealand, completed the day in seventh and one place ahead of Volkswagen’s Jari-Matti Latvala, who endured a nightmare start to Rally Poland.
Latvala wasn’t happy with the handling of his Polo R WRC and it dramatically affected his confidence. He was uncharacteristically 23.5s off the lead.
Two more drivers who suffered on the first day were ninth-placed Mikko Hirvonen and 10th-placed Martin Prokop. Hirvonen was lacking confidence and Prokop was nursing a sore back.
Further down the field, Stephane Lefebvre headed the race for the FIA Junior World Rally Championship honours, also being contested by Australia’s Molly Taylor.