PHOTO: Rallying at night for the first time since Coates Hire Rally Australia, Sebastien Ogier pushes hard in muddy conditions on Wales Rally GB (Volkswagen pic)
SÉBASTIEN Ogier remained on course for his eighth FIA World Rally Championship victory of the season after extending his lead during Saturday’s storm-lashed second leg of Wales Rally GB.
He won four special stages through mid-Wales’ windy and rain-soaked forests in his Volkswagen Polo R to increase his lead over Britain’s Kris Meeke’s DS 3 to 35.7sec with just Sunday’s short day to come.
Ogier steadily stretched his advantage in the morning, but briefly lost the lead after stopping behind Thierry Neuville’s overturned Hyundai i20, which was blocking the road in the first pass through the treacherously muddy Dyfnant test.
Officials viewed his onboard video footage before crediting him with the time for which he was stationary and the Frenchman was back at the top.
“Conditions were very tough. There was a lot of water but the stages weren’t as bad as we expected. There was so much water that it washed away the mud and the grip was actually good,” said Ogier, who struggled to concentrate this morning after last night’s tragic events in Paris.
Nine stages covering 142.32km offered a tough challenge, especially with the final two tests in wild conditions and darkness.
Meeke delivered an error-free day. He refused to risk all in pursuit of the three-time world champion, focusing instead on banking points for Citroën in its tussle with Hyundai for the runner-up slot in the manufacturers’ championship.
He headed Andreas Mikkelsen by 24.7sec. The Norwegian punctured and broke his Polo R’s rear right damper after hitting a hole, but won two stages to keep alive his slim hopes of securing second in the drivers’ championship.
Mads Østberg, Ott Tänak and Dani Sordo fought for fourth. Østberg twice had control of the position in a DS 3 but a puncture and a trip into a ditch sent him tumbling to eighth. Sordo took advantage, but a gearchange glitch and a brush with a barrier allowed Tänak ahead, despite a spin.
The Estonian’s Ford Fiesta RS headed Sordo’s i20 by 14.7sec, with Hayden Paddon completing the top six despite a gearshift problem and a head-on collision with Martin Prokop after both took the wrong route on a liaison section. Prokop’s Fiesta was too damaged to continue.
Elfyn Evans was only 4.4sec behind Paddon, with Stéphane Lefebvre and Robert Kubica completing the leaderboard behind Østberg, the Pole overcoming a broken driveshaft.
Jari-Matti Latvala endured his second retirement in two days with a broken driveshaft while Neuville, who was fastest in the opening two stages, will not restart after his roll.
Sunday’s final leg features four stages and 36.43km of action. Two forest tests are followed by the spectacular asphalt challenge around the rocky Great Orme headland, with the repeated live TV Brenig Power Stage completing the event.