PHOTO: Sebastien Ogier scored a stunning victory in Rally Sweden (Volkswagen pic)
HAGFORS, Sweden – Dual World Champion Sebastien Ogier snatched a thrilling last-gasp victory for Volkswagen after teammate Andreas Mikkelsen spun away a maiden WRC victory almost within sight of the finish at Rally Sweden on Sunday.
In the most exciting WRC finale for years, Ogier kept his cool to overturn a 3.0sec deficit in the final 15.87km special stage, while holding off Thierry Neuville in a titanic three-car tussle.
After more than 290kms’ racing since Thursday night across a spectacular winter landscape in Sweden and Norway, just 4.6sec covered the trio heading to the final live TV Power Stage.
Interim times showed Mikkelsen remained on target to win as he entered the final section of the stage, but his Volkswagen Polo R touched a bank and was dragged into deep snow.
Ogier was already at the finish line and punched the air as news of Mikkelsen’s mistake was relayed to him, the Frenchman beating Neuville by 6.4sec.
The Belgian Neuville had led overnight in his Hyundai i20 after winning the final speed test on Saturday and ending a run of 10 straight wins by Mikkelsen, who had caught another snowbank while under pressure from his rivals.
Mikkelsen regained the lead on the first of today’s three stages, stalked from third spot and then second by the maestro Ogier, who exclaimed jubilantly at the finish he had driven “flat out” to reach the final step to the top of the podium.
“An unbelievable finale. I am incredibly proud of this win. It is certainly one of my best,” Ogier said at the finish.
“Julien (Ingrassia, co-driver) and I gave everything here, from day one right through to the Power Stage. We drove as hard as possible, and it paid off in the end.
“It was certainly one of the most thrilling and exciting ends to a rally – not just for the fans, but also of my career.
“I obviously feel sorry for Andreas, who came so close to his first win and was involved in an extremely intense battle with us. However, I am sure that this is not the last time we will be duelling for victory. He and Thierry Neuville produced impressive performances.”
Neuville finished the Power Stage and the rally in second place, 6.4sec behind Ogier, while Mikkelsen was relegated to third, a further 33.4sec back.
Ogier now has a big early lead in his points chase for a third straight title. Neuville and Mikkelsen are equal-second while the third Volkswagen driver, Jari-Matti Latvala, remains fourth in the standings despite scoring no points in Sweden.
Estonian Ott Tanak drove a steady event to finish fourth for his Ford-powered M-Sport team, while New Zealander Hayden Paddon scored the best finish of his short WRC career, fifth in a Hyundai i20.
After two winter rallies to start the season, drivers in the world’s toughest championship tackle conditions at the opposite extreme for round three, the rough gravel roads and power-sapping Andean altitude of Rally Guanajuato Mexico on 5-8 March.
RESULTS, Rally Sweden (Rd 2 of 13):
1. S Ogier/ J Ingrassia (Volkswagen) Total time 2 hr 55 min 30.5 sec
2. T Neuville/ N Gilsoul (Hyundai) Behind winner +6.4 sec
3. A Mikkelsen/O Floene (Volkswagen) +39.8
4. O Tanak/R Molder (Ford) +2:26.0
5. H Paddon/J Kennard +3:31.5
6. E Evans/ D Barritt (Ford) +3:53.0
7. K Meeke/P Nagle (Citroen) +4:05.8
8. M Prokop/J Tomanek (Ford) +4:26.0
9. Y Protasov/P Cherepin (Ford) +5:32.2
10. M Ostberg/J Andersson (Citroen) +6:50.9
FIA Drivers standings (after Rd 2):
1. S Ogier 53 points
2.= T Neuville/A Mikkelsen 30
4. J-M Latvala 19
5. M Ostberg 14
FIA Manufacturers standings (after Rd 2):
1. Volkswagen Motorsport 68
2. Hyundai Motorsport 55
3. M-Sport WRT 32
4. Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT 20
5. Volkswagen Motorsport II 15
Rd 3, Rally Guanajuato Mexico 5-8 March 2015
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