(16/11/2013) CHAMPION driver Sebastien Ogier has maintained his customary position at the front of the FIA World Rally Championship field, winning four of Friday’s six speed tests in the second and longest leg of Wales Rally GB to build a 20.1sec lead over team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala.
After a commanding win in the opening Hafren test by almost 10sec, the Frenchman was fastest on all three afternoon tests in his Volkswagen Polo R.
Thierry Neuville, second after the opening leg in a Ford Fiesta RS, could not stay with the pair and is 62.6sec off the lead in third.
While Volkswagen and Ford drivers held the podium positions, it was a disastrous day for the Citroen squad. Mikko Hirvonen and Robert Kubica both rolled their DS3s – Hirvonen has retired from the rally – although Dani Sordo clawed back 36 positions after a five-minute penalty to finish the day ninth.
European Ladies Champion Molly Taylor, the only Australian in the rally, holds 22nd outright spot in a Citroen DS3 R3.
The dank forests of mid-Wales became increasingly difficult as the day progressed. A slimy layer of mud was cleaned during the first pass, to leave wet and polished stones on the surface when they were repeated.
“It was more slippery this afternoon than this morning and it was hard to stay on the driving line. But we used the lines quite well,” said Ogier, who had the benefit of following Latvala in the tests and seeing his braking points.
Latvala, battling Neuville in this final WRC round for second in the drivers standings, made a cautious start but ended the morning by winning his favourite Myherin test. His confidence surged and a softer set-up on his Polo R encouraged him further.
“I really pushed hard and there wasn’t much left to give. I found it hard at the beginning where it was very slippery but I got a good feeling as things went on. Maybe I just took too long to wake up,” he said Latvala.
But he almost pushed too hard and was fortunate to escape a high-speed moment in the final stage.
Neuville followed his usual strategy of perfecting his pace notes in the morning loop, but admitted there was no more speed to find this afternoon.
“I did my best and I think I drove very well. But there was so little traction on the slippery stones,” the Belgian said.
Qatar M-Sport Fiesta RS team-mates Mads Ostberg and Evgeny Novikov are split by just 3.7sec in fourth and fifth, but more than 90sec off the lead. Ostberg regretted altering his car’s set-up while Novikov lived with a day-long problem affecting the launch control at stage starts.
Andreas Mikkelsen is sixth in another Polo R, just 1.1sec behind Novikov, with Martin Prokop’s Fiesta RS in seventh, more than three minutes adrift.
Leading WRC 2 runners Elfyn Evans and Mark Higgins are eighth and 10th, with Dani Sordo sandwiched between them in ninth.
Sordo, saddled with a five minute penalty before last night’s start, was fastest on the second stage and climbed 36 places in his Citroen DS3.
The highly-anticipated world rally car debut of new WRC2 champion Robert Kubica was blunted when rolled his DS3 out of seventh in the opening stage.
Mikko Hirvonen compounded a disastrous rally for the factory Citroen squad by rolling his DS3 car out of fourth two stages later after a pace note error. Hirvonen will not restart on Saturday.
Drivers restart on Saturday at 6am and face two identical loops of two tests in Dovey Forest. After the longest stage of the day in Dyfnant, crews return to Deeside via two passes of the short Chirk Castle test. It all adds up to 98.42km of action.