PHOTO: Co-driver Julien Ingrassia (L) and Sebastien Ogier celebrate their Wales Rally GB victory at the end of the last stage (Volkswagen pic)
WORLD Champion Sebastien Ogier ended the 2014 FIA World Rally Championship season on a winning note, claiming his eighth victory of the year at Wales Rally GB on Sunday.
He mastered the muddy forest tracks to lead the three-day event from start-to-finish in a Volkswagen Polo R, measuring his pace through the final two legs to win by 37.6sec.
Mikko Hirvonen claimed an emotional second place in his final rally before retirement after holding off Kris Meeke in a titanic battle. The pair fought tooth-and-nail until Meeke damaged two tyres after skidding into a ditch on Sunday morning and plunged to sixth.
This allowed Mads Østberg to take third in a Citroen DS3, the Norwegian finishing 26.0sec behind Hirvonen’s Fiesta RS.
Ogier fought with team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala through Friday’s opening leg. But when Latvala slid into a ditch and dropped three minutes on Saturday morning, Ogier was handed a 70sec lead and throttled back in the treacherous conditions.
“It’s the best way to finish the season and it was my target,” Ogier said. “We started flat-out on Friday and made an incredible day – there was a big difference to everyone else. My rally changed when Jari-Matti made a mistake and I had control and could ease my pace.
“It wasn’t the most fun way to drive, but in the slippery conditions I had to do it. It was the best way to get the win.”
Hirvonen, Meeke and Østberg traded places as they fought for second. A 10sec time penalty for arriving late at a time control and a delaminated tyre cost Østberg valuable time on Saturday and left his rivals to duel for position.
Meeke pushed so hard he damaged two tyres after ditching his DS3 in Sunday’s opening stage. The Northern Irishman continued at unabated speed but, with just one spare on board, he lost more than 90sec in the final two tests as the tyres cried enough.
Hirvonen said he ould not have planned a better way to end his career.
“It was a fantastic fight all weekend, one of the most enjoyable of my career. It was an amazing weekend and I’m looking forward to keeping all my memories from the last 13 years and taking them home with me.”
Østberg was under threat from Thierry Neuville but outpaced the Belgian to finish 11.3sec ahead of the Hyundai i20, securing second in the manufacturers’ championshio for Citroen.
Welshman Elfyn Evans delighted his home fans by relegating Meeke in the final stage to claim fifth in a Fiesta RS.
Estonian Ott Tänak survived a final-day puncture to finish seventh in a Fiesta RS with a recovering Latvala, Martin Prokop and Hayden Paddon completing the leaderboard.
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