PHOTO: Four-time world champion Sébastien Ogier high-flies his Ford Fiesta off the famous Fafe special stage jump on the way to victory at Vodafone Rally de Portugal (M-Sport pic)
FRENCH driver Sébastien Ogier increased his lead in the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship with his second win of the season at Vodafone Rally de Portugal on Sunday.
Steering home his Ford Fiesta 15.6sec ahead of Thierry Neuville in a Hyundai i20 Coupe, Ogier’s 40th career win also matched the 30-year-old record five Portugal wins of Finn Markku Alén.
Neuville’s teammate Dani Sordo finished third in the championship’s sixth round.
The result, concluded in front of huge spectator crowds on the famous Fafe stage near Porto in northern Portugal, boosted Ogier’s lead to 22 points in his chase for a fifth straight drivers’ world championship. Neuville moved from third to second in the standings, displacing Toyota’s Jari-Matti Latvala.
On the anniversary of his maiden WRC win in Portugal seven years ago, Ogier took the lead of the four-day gravel contest on Saturday morning. He controlled a comfortable advantage through the final leg to add to his season-opening win in Monte-Carlo.
The 2017 championship ends on 16-19 November at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on the New South Wales Coffs Coast, where Ogier won in 2013-14-15. Tickets from $39 are on sale now from www.ticketek.com.
“After the struggle we had in the last round, it’s fantastic to be back on the top step of the podium again,” Ogier said at the Portugal finish.
“I had a new car in Monte-Carlo and we won. I had a new car here and we won. I’m not sure if the team can afford to give me a new car for every rally!”
Remarkably, Ogier was one of seven drivers to lead during the rally.
Belgian Neuville was another. With Mads Østberg, he topped the order in his Hyundai after Thursday night’s opening stage, but slipped away before recovering to second.
Neuville, targeting a hat-trick after victories in Corsica and Argentina, changed his driving style to try to regain top spot, but conceded defeat early on Sunday morning.
Teammate Sordo finished a further 46.1sec behind in third. The Spaniard struggled with the handling of his i20 on the dusty gravel roads and could not fend off Ogier and Neuville after lying second earlier in the weekend.
Ott Tänak looked to be the man to beat on Saturday. He led before swiping a bank and breaking his Fiesta’s suspension and brakes. He recovered to finish fourth, almost half a minute adrift of Sordo, but had the compensation of winning the rally-closing Power Stage and five bonus points.
Craig Breen was again the leading Citroën C3 driver in fifth, the fourth occasion in six rallies he has occupied that position. He was 27.2sec adrift of Tänak, but well over a minute clear of Elfyn Evans’ Fiesta.
The championship reaches its midpoint on 8-11 June at Rally Italia Sardegna, based in Alghero.
RESULTS, Vodafone Rally de Portugal (Rd 6 of 13):
1 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) 3h42m55.7s
2 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +15.6s
3 Dani Sordo/Marc Marti (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1m01.7s
4 Ott Tänak/Martin Jarveoja (Ford Fiesta WRC) 1m30.2s
5 Craig Breen/Scott Martin (Citroen C3 WRC) +1m57.4s
6 Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +3m10.6s
7 Juho Hänninen/Kaj Lindström (Toyota Yaris WRC) +3m48.6s
8 Mads Østberg/Ola Floene (Ford Fiesta WRC) +5m29.7s
9 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +5m43.6s
10 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +8m13.3s
FIA World Rally Championship for drivers (after Rd 6):
1 Sébastien Ogier 128
2 Thierry Neuville 106
3 Jari-Matti Latvala 88
4 Ott Tänak 83
5 Dani Sordo 66
6 Elfyn Evans 53
7 Craig Breen 43
8 Hayden Paddon 33
9 Kris Meeke 27
10 Juho Hänninen 21
17 Esapekka Lappi 3
FIA World Rally Championship for manufacturers (after Rd 6):
1 M-Sport World Rally Team 199
2 Hyundai Motorsport 173
3 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRT 113
4 Citroen Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team 85