PHOTO: Sebastien Ogier cuts a corner on Wales Rally GB (Volkswagen pic)
SÉBASTIEN Ogier held a slender lead over Jari-Matti Latvala after the Volkswagen duo dominated Friday;s slippery opening leg of WAles Rally GB.
Both claimed four stage wins and although Ogier was never headed, he was unable to shake off his Polo R colleague and led by 6.6sec after eight muddy forest speed tests covering 145km in mid-Wales.The newly-crowned world champion won three of the four morning tests to lead by 9.5sec at the mid-leg service in Newtown, but Latvala took the afternoon honours as the polished surface made conditions even more slippery.
“It was difficult to drive this morning but I really enjoyed the stages,” Ogier said.
“This afternoon was just a question of surviving. Conditions were slippery and I was fighting the car all the way,” he said.
Ogier misjudged a hairpin on the afternoon’s opening stage while Latvala admitted he was lucky not to roll after hitting a hole in the first test.
Mads Østberg and Mikko Hirvonen, tackling his last rally before retirement, fought over third for most of the day. The Norwegian held the advantage this morning but Hirvonen moved ahead to finish 1min 07.2sec off the lead in his Ford Fiesta RS.
Østberg became increasingly frustrated with the handling of his Citroen DS3, and dropped to fifth in the final stage. Kris Meeke benefited from his team-mate’s struggles to climb to fourth, despite a 10sec penalty for a jump start in the opening stage.
He was 7.7sec behind Hirvonen and 0.7sec ahead of Østberg, despite twice making a mistake at the same hairpin.
Thierry Neuville was sixth in a Hyundai i20, the Belgian one of many drivers to lose time at a tight hairpin in the final stage.
Elfyn Evans, Ott Tänak, Henning Solberg and Martin Prokop completed the leaderboard, all in Fiesta RS cars. Solberg lost time with a morning misfire while Prokop spun into a ditch in the final stage.
Andreas Mikkelsen retired his Polo R with broken suspension after hitting a bank while in second and Juho Hänninen went out after going off.
Robert Kubica survived a brush with a bank, a spin and an overshoot to lie 11th, while power steering problems and front differential issues delayed Hayden Paddon’s i20 in 12th.
Saturday’s second leg comprises nine more stages covering 113.74km. There are two identical loops of four tests in north Wales, split by a short fan-friendly stage at Chirk Castle.