PHOTO: Sebastien Ogier flies to his third straight WRC victory (Volkswagen pic).
LEÓN (Mexico) – Frenchman Sébastien Ogier raced to a third straight victory in the 2015 FIA World Rally Championship with a flawless performance in Rally Guanajuato Mexico today.
The dual champion had predicted a win was impossible because of an unfavourable starting position, but he won 10 of the 21 stages in his Volkswagen Polo R and, after taking the lead within 6 km of the Thursday-night start, was never overtaken.
Ogier managed the high-altitude gravel stages that claimed many rivals to win by 1min 18.8sec and extend his lead in the drivers’ standings to 34 points after three rounds. His tally included the bonus three points for winning the event-closing Power Stage.
Citroen’s Mads Østberg claimed an exciting all-Norwegian battle for second. He headed Andreas Mikkelsen by 6.3sec after the Volkswagen driver lost his chance by spinning on the final morning.
After two European winter rallies, Mexico brought an extreme change in conditions – altitudes up to 2800 metres that strained the breathing of drivers and cars, gravel, dust and bright sunshine emphasising the challenges that makes the 13-country WRC the toughest international motorsport series.
(The WRC visits the New South Wales Coffs Coast for Coates Hire Rally Australia, Round 10, on 10-13 September.)
Big crowds cheered the crews from a spectacular start in the heritage-listed Guanajuato City, along the stages and at the finish in León, around 320 kms north of Mexico City.
While Ogier sailed with unflappable consistency through the 21 stages, winning 10 of them, the attrition rate in his wake was high.
Ott Tänak rolled his Ford Fiesta into a lake, but it was retrieved after almost 10 hours submerged, repaired and rejoined today to finish the rally in a tribute to the remarkable skills of his M-Sport team mechanics.
Thierry Neuville (Hyundai) and Robert Kubica (Ford) rolled, Kris Meeke (Citroen) hit a bank, Jari-Matti Latvala (Volkswagen) and New Zealander Hayden Paddon (Hyundai) damaged suspensions and Lorenzo Bertelli and Robeto Guerra crashed.
Despite Ogier’s championship position committing him to opening the roads on Friday and sweeping slippery surface gravel, his selection of two soft-compound Michelin tyres in unusually cold conditions proved inspired.
He smashed his rivals in the 44km El Chocolate test to build a lead. Once Neuville rolled Latvala retired on Saturday, Ogier cruised home.
“I think we can be proud, we did an amazing job this weekend,” he said.
“I think it’s one of the best wins of my career. To open the road in Mexico and win is special. A lot of people made mistakes, but we put maximum pressure on them.”
Elfyn Evans matched his career-best fourth in a Ford Fiesta RS after a clean run. He was over a minute clear of Dani Sordo, who returned to Hyundai after breaking two ribs in a cycling accident and overcame gearbox problems.
Czech driver Martin Prokop finished sixth ahead of WRC 2 winner Nasser Al-Attiyah. Neuville recovered to eighth, but slips to third in the championship beind Ostberg, with Nicolas Fuchs and Jari Ketomaa completing the top 10.
The FIA World Rally Championship now pauses for a seven-week break before Round 4, Rally Argentina on 23-26 April.
RESULTS, Rally Sweden (Provisional, Rd 3 of 13):
1. S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen) Total time 4hr19min13.4asec
2. M. Østberg / J. Andersson (Citroën) Behind first +1min18.8sec
3. A. Mikkelsen / O. Floene (Volkswagen) +1:25.1
4. E. Evans / D. Barritt (Ford) +3:40.2
5. D. Sordo / M. Martí (Hyundai) +5:01.8
6. M. Prokop / J. Tomanek (Ford) +6:36.1
7. N. Al-Attiyah / M. Baumel (Ford) +14:52.7
8. T. Neuville / N. Gilsoul (Hyundai) +22:43.3
9. N. Fuchs / F. Mussano (Ford) +22:49.0
10. J. Ketomaa / K. Lindstrom (Ford) +23:10.2
17. H. Paddon / J. Kennard (Hyundai) +54:20.5
FIA Drivers standings (after Rd 3):
1. S. Ogier 81 points
2. A. Mikkelsen 47
3. T. Neuville 35
4. M. Østberg 32
5. E. Evans 26
6. J.M. Latvala 19
7. D. Sordo 18
8. M. Prokop 14
9. O. Tanak 12
10. H. Paddon 10
FIA Manufacturers standings (after Rd 3):
1. Volkswagen Motorsport 99
2. Hyundai Motorsport 75
3. M-Sport WRT 48
4. Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT 42
5. Volkswagen Motorsport II 15