(15/11/2013) SEBASTIEN Ogier won two of Thursday’s three opening stages of Wales Rally GB to leadThierry Neuville by 3.2 seconds as cars returned to the rally base in Deeside for the overnight break.
Following the start in Conwy, Ogier stamped his authority on the seas0n’s final WRC round by winning the Gwydyr and Penmachno tests in his Volkswagen Polo R. However, Neuville hit back in Clocaenog to post fastest time in his Ford Fiesta RS.
Heavy rain and strong winds in the morning morning brought testing conditions in qualifying but Ogier was fastest. The world champion, wary of just how slippery the gravel tracks in the north Wales forests would be from first in the start order, opted to start second and it paid dividends.
Neuville flirted with disaster in the opening stage when he slid into a ditch and then hit a huge rock in the second stage which flung his car into the air.
Jari-Matti Latvala was brave enough to opt for first in the running order in his Polo R. The Finn was second fastest in both opening stages but dropped 3.4sec with third fastest in Clocaenog and ended the night 5.2sec behind his team-mate in third.
Mikko Hirvonen is fourth overnight in a Citroen DS3, 16.2sec off the lead. The Finn twice slid wide in the opening test and admitted the lack of a pre-event test hadn’t helped his cause.
“The car feels OK, but it could be better, but I’m not sure which way to go with any changes,” he said.
Despite struggling with gearchange issues, Mads Ostberg is fifth in a Fiesta RS and the Norwegian lies 3.1sec ahead of fellow countryman Andreas Mikkelsen. Strong times from Mikkelsen in the first and last stages were offset by a poor second test when he couldn’t absorb all the detail from his pace notes.
Robert Kubica is seventh on his World Rally Car debut, the Pole opting for caution as he comes to terms with a new car, a new co-driver, pace notes in Italian and his first time on slippery gravel stages in the dark. “I have a lot of things to learn,” was probably the understatement of the night.
Evgeny Novikov, WRC 2 leader Elfyn Evans and Martin Prokop round off the top 10, all in Fiestas of one sort or another.
Dani Sordo lies 46th after receiving a five minute pre-start penalty when his Citroen team admitted his DS3 was the ninth chassis it had used this season – the limit is eight.
Competitors restart at 6.30 am on Friday and make the long journey south to mid-Wales for two identical loops of three tests, including the classic Hafren and Myherin. With 137.06km of action and only a 15-minute service in Newtown separating the loops, it will be a challenging day.