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(, 23/6/2013)  SEBASTIEN Ogier has claimed his fourth FIA World Rally Championship victory of the season after leading Rally Italia Sardegna from start to finish in a Volkswagen Polo R.

The Frenchman won round seven of 13 on the Mediterranean island by 1min 16.8sec from Thierry Neuville, who claimed a career-best result in a Ford Fiesta RS. Jari-Matti Latvala completed the podium in a Polo R.

The rally finish overnight Australian time marked the start of a midsummer break in the championship. There will be only two more rounds in Europe – Neste Oil Rally Finland on 1-3 August and ADAC Rallye Deutschland on 22-25 August – before the WRC heads Down Under for Coates Hire Rally Australia on the New south Wales Coffs Coast on 12-15 September.

Ogier was the class of the field throughout Rally Italia, covering 304.50km of dusty gravel tracks. The Frenchman ended the first leg with a 46.6sec lead, extending it on the second and final morning on Saturday before cruising home.

He claimed maximum bonus points in the penultimate Power Stage, too, and his series lead is now 64 points.

“We managed the rally perfectly all the time,” Ogier said. “We pushed when we needed to and were more careful when it was rough and more dangerous for the tyres. In the end it was a perfect win.”

Neuville took his second consecutive podium. Stiffening the set-up and adjusting the brakes in his Fiesta RS transformed its handling and he climbed from sixth to end day one in third, hot on the heels of Mikko Hirvonen.

When Hirvonen went off the road in SS10, the pressure was off and the Belgian eased home – despite a bizarre last stage drama.

“We met a cow in the stage and had to slow down and turn around,” he said.

“I didn’t stress at all. I had the splits to Latvala and saw it was OK. I think our strategy here was quite good and the last few rallies have been incredible for us.”

Latvala’s rally began perfectly with victory in Thursday’s qualifying stage. However, his hopes were shattered in the opening test when he punctured the front-left tyre after just 8km. He lost almost two minutes and lay 12th.

He was fifth on Friday night and his recovery was complete when he climbed to third following Hirvonen’s demise and a mistake from the under-pressure Dani Sordo. The Finn finished 31.2sec behind Neuville and 1min 31.2sec clear of Sordo.

It seemed unlikely Sordo would resist Latvala’s challenge, but a spin sealed his fate. With Citroen team-mate Hirvonen stranded in a ditch, the Spaniard was under firm instructions to come home safely and net vital manufacturers’ points.

Another last-day casualty was Andreas Mikkelsen. It was the Norwegian’s 24th birthday, but his pursuit of Sordo’s fourth place provided an unwanted present when he slid wide in a slow corner and broke the suspension in his Polo R.

Martin Prokop took fifth after a consistent weekend in his Fiesta RS, more than five minutes behind Sordo and over three minutes clear of Elfyn Evans’ similar car.

After being thrust into his World Rally Car debut at the last minute following Nasser Al-Attiyah’s withdrawal, Evans never put a foot wrong.

It was the best World Rally Car debut for a former FIA Academy / JWRC champion – eclipsing Sebastien Loeb.

Evans was just 0.9sec ahead of Michal Kosciuszko’s Fiesta in seventh. Mads Ostberg restarted after Friday night’s roll to finish eighth with WRC 2 winner Robert Kubica ninth and Khalid Al Qassimi 10th.

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.

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