SÉBASTIEN Ogier dominated Friday’s muddy opening leg of Wales Rally GB to lead the final round of the WRC season following five wins from six special stages.
Driving a Volkswagen Polo R, Ogier headed Kris Meeke by 13.5sec with teammate Andreas Mikkelsen a further 17.9sec behind, WRC.com reported.
Torrential rain soaked the forests of mid-Wales on Thursday night and Ogier benefited from opening the road in slippery conditions. He won all three morning stages to build a lead of 12.9sec over Meeke.
Although Citroën’s DS3 driver stopped the rot with fastest time through the repeated Hafren test, Ogier bounced back to win the final two stages.
“Kris is driving very well and it won’t be easy to win this rally. I have to focus on myself and not make a mistake and I’m just happy to finish a difficult day without trouble,” Ogier said.
Meeke emphasised his priority was to help Citroën defeat Hyundai in their battle for second in the manufacturers’ championship rather than pursuing Ogier. His only incident came in the opening stage when he almost spun after clipping a bank.
The only challenge to the leading duo came from Jari-Matti Latvala, but it was short-lived. The Finn was second behind Ogier in the opening test but ditched his Polo R early in the next stage and retired.
PHOTO: Jari-Matti Latvala decides his Polo R WRC is not going any further on Friday’s stages! (WRC.com pic)
Mikkelsen returned with a clean bill of health after an unscheduled visit to Germany for a medical check on Thursday. Having missed shakedown, he took time to acclimatise to the inconsistent grip but climbed into third following Latvala’s demise.
Mads Østberg’s only problem was a leaky DS3 which allowed the cockpit to become a mudbath but he held a comfortable fourth, 35.7sec ahead of Dani Sordo’s Hyundai i20. The Spaniard was untroubled except for a spin.
Ott Tänak struggled for outright pace but a clean run earned sixth ahead of Hayden Paddon. The Kiwi suffered hydraulic problems in his i20, leaving him unable to use the paddle shift gearchange or handbrake.
Elfyn Evans ended the morning fifth but a puncture and stall in his Ford Fiesta RS dropped him to eighth. Lorenzo Bertelli and a flu-hit Stéphane Lefebvre completed the top 10, the latter spinning his DS3 in the final stage.
Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville and Kevin Abbring were early casualties. Neuville lost the left-rear wheel from his i20 when the wheel studs broke and the Dutchman stopped when a leak in the water system overheated and wrecked his engine.
Broken rear suspension in the final stage sent Martin Prokop tumbling from eighth, while a puncture and last stage overshoot into the undergrowth ruined Robert Kubica’s day.
Saturday is a marathon with nine stages covering 142.32km, of which the final two are in darkness. After leaving the Deeside base at 05.00, drivers face more than 17 hours at the wheel and with torrential rain forecast, conditions could be treacherous.