Monday, 16 November 2015

Ogier eases to Wales Rally GB victory

Sebastien Ogier rounded out a dominant World Rally Championship campaign by cruising to victory in the season ending Wales Rally GB.

The Frenchman's eighth win in 13 events this season came after team mate Jari-Matti Latvala crashed on the first and second days of the event. Kris Meeke in second place was never a realistic challenger for victory, holding off Andreas Mikkelsen who took third.


On Thursday's shakedown stage both Ogier and Latvala tied for first spot, posting a time of two Minutes, 1.4 seconds in the wet and slippery conditions.

The Volkswagen pair headed Citroën's Meeke who was three tenths back in third with Williams F1 driver Susie Wolff replacing Irishman Paul Nagle in the co-driver's seat for the short shakedown stage.

Hyundai's Thierry Neuville, Hayden Paddon and Dani Sordo rounded out the top six, ahead of Mads Ostberg and local hero Elfyn Evans. Youngsters Kevin Abbring and Stephane Lefebvre were ninth and tenth.

The third Volkswagen driver Andreas Mikkelsen missed the shakedown after spending the morning in Germany undergoing checks for an undisclosed medical condition.

Day One

After Storm Abigail pounded Wales overnight, drenching Thursday evening's ceremonial start in Llandudno, The rally got underway on the returning Myherin stage. Latvala set the early pace on the stage, although ultimatley it was the Finn's team mate Ogier who took the stage win by a mere eight tenths of a second.

Latvala's chances of victory were dashed on just the second stage of the event, the famous Sweet Lamb, when he went off the road early on in the stage.

He wasn't the only WRC driver to endure a difficult first day, with Neuville ripping a wheel off his car forcing him to retire and F1 race winner Robert Kubica sustaining a slow puncture on the third stage, the first run through Myherin.

Kubica's plight dropped him down to 17th after he ran in the top ten early on. Neuville's early end to his rally came after he was demoted to Hyundai's second string team to restore his confidence following a poor run of results.

Meeke initially posed a challenge to Ogier for the lead, although the three-time world champion would pull away to hold a 13.5 second lead at the end of the first day.

Andreas Mikkelsen held third, 11.6 seconds ahead of the second Citroën of Mads Ostberg with Dani Sordo in fifth.

Local driver Elfyn Evans initially challenged for a top five position until a crash caused a puncture which would end up costing him over a minute.


Day Two

Ogier continued to build his lead on the second day of the rally, gaining time on both Meeke and Mikkelsen who held station in second and third.

Mikkelsen the fastest time during day's second run through Dyfnant, a feat made all the more impressive considering his lights were not pointing at the road during the night time stage.

Mads Ostberg endured an eventful day, hitting a rock which dropped him to fifth. He reclaimed fourth later on after Dani Sordo stalled on the tenth stage due to a spin, before going off road, dropping him down the order.

After rejoining the event under Rally2 conditions both Latvala and Neuville would once again fail to make it to the end of the day.

Latvala lost a driveshaft during Dyfi (1), the second stage of the day. Neuville meanwhile was the fastest of all on the day's opening two stages before he rolled off the road. The accident caused damage to the roll cage in the Belgian's Hyundai i20, ending his rally for good.

Rally leader Ogier slowed because of Neuville's stricken car, causing him to briefly loose the rally lead to Meeke. The organisers quickly restored the Frenchman's lead, leaving him going into the final day comfortably at the front of the field.

Robert Kubica managed to work his way back up to the top ten by the end of the second day after a tough start to the rally. He ended day two just behind an ill Stephane Lefebrve, making his second WRC start of the year.


Day Three

Extreme weather and the discovery of human remains threatened to end the final day of the rally before it even began.

Hurricane strength winds threatened to knock over trees and spectators even had to be evacuated from the Great Orme stage due to the extreme weather.

In addition to the weather, a skeleton was discovered along the route of the Brenig stage, threatening the two runs on that stage, plus the following Alwen due to fears that there would be lack of room for spectators moving from Brenig and Great Orme.

However, the rally was able to continue with minimal disruptions, despite all that was thrown at the organisers.

Ogier was again comfortably in the lead during the final day, although it was team mate Latvala who topped the stage times during the opening two stages of the day.

Once again rejoining under Rally2 conditions, Latvala was fastest through Brenig (1) and Alwen, although meaningless with him being unable to challenge for the rally lead.

In second place,  Meeke came under pressure from Mikkelsen. The Norwegian took more than 14 seconds out of the Northern Irishman's adavantage but was unable to snatch the runner up spot.

M-Sport's Ott Tanak was looking good for a fourth place finish until he crashed and retired from the first stage of the day. That elevated the Hyundai duo of Dani Sordo and Hayden Paddon to fourth and fifth.

Welshman Elfyn Evans took a quiet sixth place after battling a puncture with Ostberg finishing in seventh after his dramatic Saturday.

Stephane Lefebvre, Robert Kubica and Lorenzo Bertelli completed the top ten.

Final WRC result (Top 10)

1.   Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia - Volkswagen Motorsport - 03:03:2.0
2.   Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle - Citroën Total Abu Dhabu WRT - 03:03:28.0
3.   Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Floene - Volkswagen Motorsport II - 03:03:38.2
4.   Dani Sordo/Marc Marti - Hyundai Motorsport - 03:05:53.3
5.   Hayden Paddon/Jonathan Kennard - Hyundai Motorsport  - 03:06:02.5
6.   Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt - M-Sport World Rally Team - 03:06:11.1
7.   Mads Ostberg/Jonas Andersson - Citroën Total Abu Dhabu WRT - 03:07:30.4
8.   Stephane Lefebvre/Stephane Prevot - Citroën Total Abu Dhabu WRT - 03:08:40.4
9.   Robert Kubica/Maciek Szczepaniak - RK World Rally Team - 03:09:24.7
10. Lorenzo Bertelli/Lorenzo Granai  - FWRT SRL - 03:11:07.0

 Other Notable results

20. David Higgins/Craig Drew  - Subaru Rally Team USA - 03:30:07.4
21. Martin Prokop/Jan Tomanek  - Jipocar Czech National Team 03:30:52.7
51. Jari-Matti Latvala/Miika Anttila  - Volkswagen Motorsport - 04:27:21.3

Kevin Abbring/Sebastian Marshall  - Hyundai Motorsport N- Retired
Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul  - Hyundai Motorsport N- Retired
Ott Tanak/Raigo Molder - M-Sport World Rally Team - Retired 

Away from the top WRC class, seven time Rally America champion David Higgins finished as the highest Group N entrant, 20th overall. Higgins was behind the wheel of a JRM-built Subaru Impreza sporting a Colin McRae tribute livery to celebrate 20 years since his WRC title triumph.

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Images: Dominik Wilde

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