PHOTO: Robert Kubica’s Citroen Word Rally Car debut ended upside down.
(17/11/2013) SEBASTIEN Ogier will take a lead of 20.3 seconds into the final day of Wales Rally GB today.
The Volkswagen Polo R driver began Saturday’s third leg with a lead of 20.1sec over his teammate Jari-Matti Latvala and maintained the advantage despite a determined challenge from the Finn.
Ogier wasn’t fastest on any of the seven stages, but judged his pace perfectly on the slippery forest roads of mid-Wales to round off the day with a clean run through the short asphalt stage at Chirk Castle in front of thousands of spectators.
“We just conserved the gap today, that was the plan,” said the Frenchman, who is aiming for his fourth straight WRC win since Coates Hire Rally Australia in September.
“I wanted to keep Jari-Matti at the same difference and we did that. Now there are 50 kilometres to go, but Rally GB is never finished before the end. It’s very tricky and we have to stay concentrated.”
Thierry Neuville is third on his last outing in a Ford Fiesta RS before a switch to Hyundai for 2014.
Volkswagen and Ford drivers have dominated on an event that has brought Citroen to possibly the lowest point of its season.
Fighting back from a five-minute penalty, Dani Sordo is seventh and the only runner left for the French team. Mikko Hirvonen retired after a roll on Friday. Robert Kubica, having rejoined after also going out on Friday, was out comprehensively on Saturday after rolling 60 metres off the road.
Among the privateer Citroen competitors, Australian Molly Taylor has climbed to 20th place in her Italian-run United Business DS3 R3.
Ogier’s teammates Andreas Mikkelsen and Latvala between them won all of the day’s five forest stages, with Mikkelsen fastest on the first two and Latvala taking a hat-trick in the afternoon.
But while Latvala was encouraged by his ability to take time out of Ogier on the latter tests, he ended the day concerned by his lack of pace earlier on.
“I don’t have a clear answer and I wish I did. It seems that especially in the morning on the gravel I don’t find the rhythm and it takes a couple of stages for me to get into it,” he said.
“I need to concentrate tomorrow. Maybe I’m loading too much pressure on myself but to beat Ogier you have to be ready in all conditions.”
The Belgian had a largely trouble free day, but was kept under pressure from Mikkelsen behind.
A lack of split times in Neuville’s car in the afternoon didn’t help him judge his speed, but he competed the day with a 20sec advantage.
“I’ve always been close to the fastest except on the long stage, so I can be really pleased with my day,” he said.
Mikkelsen was satisfied too, having come out best in a three-way battle for fourth that became a duel on SS11 when Evgeny Novikov rolled out.
“It’s been a great day, I’m happy that we managed to pull a little time back, [from Neuville] and we set some great times with no moments. It’s been fantastic,” he said.
Mads Ostberg is fifth, just 7.3sec further back, in his Qatar M-Sport Ford Fiesta RS. The Norwegian got a big step closer to Mikkelsen on the final forest stage, thanks in part to some suspension set-up advice from his father, and has fourth place in his sights on Sunday.
“It’s been a pretty good day for us. We’ve found some improvements today and we can definitely try to fight back. I’m off to bed now for a good sleep. Tomorrow I’ll start with a good breakfast and then it’s flat-out!”
After Ostberg there is a gap of almost five minutes to Ford Fiesta RS driver Martin Prokop in sixth.
Dani Sordo is seventh and Citroen’s sole remaining factory entry after Robert Kubica crashed for a second time. The Pole restarted after a crash on day two, but went off the road on SS11 after a pace-note misunderstanding.
WRC 2 leaders Elfyn Evans, Jari Ketomaa and Mark Higgins round off the top 10.