PHOTO: Jari-Matti fights back in Spain title decider (Volkswagen pic)
SÉBASTIEN Ogier repelled a fierce charge from revitalised teammate Jari-Matti Latvala to lead Rally de Espana going into the crucial final day today.
Ogier, who will clinch a second consecutive drivers’ title if he finishes ahead of Latvala, leads by 27.3sec in a Volkswagen Polo R, despite the Finn winning four of the six special stages on Saturday in his efforts to keep alive his own title hopes.
After Friday’s gravel action, Saturday was asphalt and scorching sunshine ensured a tough test for tyres and brakes as road temperatures reached 35°C.
Latvala’s attack was in contrast to a lacklustre Friday when he could not match his rival’s pace. But Ogier remained unflustered despite a scare in the second pass through the marathon 50km Escaladei test, which celebrated the rally’s half-century.
He drove the final 20km with a severe vibration after a tyre delaminated and admitted his team-mate pushed him hard.
“I have to congratulate Jari-Matti because he did a good job,” Ogier said.
“The plan was to control from the front, but there were sections I didn’t control too much because I had to drive very fast to stay with him.
“He was flying, but my plan was to have a 20sec lead tonight and we have more than that so it’s good.”
Apart from a small brake problem, Latvala was untroubled.
“I was disappointed yesterday. I wanted to fight for the win and now that seems a little too far away. I was driving too aggressively and thinking about today’s asphalt rather than the gravel,” he said.
Mikko Hirvonen was third in a Ford Fiesta RS, 1min 18.6sec off the lead, after seeing off Andreas Mikkelsen and Mads Østberg in their fight for the final podium place.
Mikkelsen spun before stopping to replace a damaged tyre while Østberg fell back to fourth.
Dani Sordo closed to 22.1sec behind in fifth in his Hyundai i20 with teammate Thierry Neuville recovering to sixth after Friday’s problem.
Mikkelsen slipped to seventh with Martin Prokop, Hayden Paddon and Yuriy Protasov completing the leaderboard.
Robert Kubica drove all morning with only front-wheel drive in his Fiesta RS after breaking a differential as he warmed his tyres before the first stage. He later retired after ripping a front wheel from the car.
Drivers face two loops of two stages covering 72.06km on today’s final leg.