The WRC season finale has just one day remaining to determine the final points. Ogier earned his crown early; however he wants the final victory of 2013!
Sebastien Ogier will take a lead of 20.3 seconds into the final day of Wales Rally GB as he chases his first victory on the World Championship counter.
The Volkswagen Polo R driver began Saturday’s third leg with a lead of 20.1sec over his team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala, and he maintained that advantage despite a determined challenge from the Finn.
Ogier wasn’t fastest on any of the day’s seven stages, but judged his pace perfectly on the slippery forest roads of mid-Wales to round off the day with a clean run through the short asphalt stage at Chirk Castle in front of thousands of spectators.
“We just conserved the gap today, that was the plan,” said the Frenchman, whose current personal best in Wales is the 11th he achieved in 2011.
“I wanted to keep Jari-Matti at the same difference and we did that. Now there are fifty kilometres to go, but Rally GB is never finished before the end. It’s very tricky and we have to stay concentrated. We need to do the same job we’ve done up to now.”
Between them, Ogier’s team-mates Andreas Mikkelsen and Latvala won all of the day’s five forest stages, with Mikkelsen fastest on the first two and Latvala taking a hat-trick in the afternoon.
But while Latvala was encouraged by his ability to take time out of Ogier on the latter tests, he ended the day concerned by his lack of pace earlier on.
“I don’t have a clear answer, and I wish I did,” he said. “It seems that especially in the morning on the gravel I don’t find the rhythm and it takes a couple of stages for me to get into it. I need to concentrate tomorrow. Maybe I’m loading too much pressure on myself but to beat Ogier you have to be ready in all conditions.”
Thierry Neuville is third on his last outing in a Ford Fiesta RS before a switch to Hyundai for 2014. The Belgian had a largely trouble free day, but was kept under pressure from Mikkelsen behind.
A lack of split times in Neuville’s car in the afternoon didn’t help him judge his speed, but the Belgian competed the day with a 20sec advantage. “I’ve always been close to the fastest except on the long stage, so I can be really pleased with my day,” he said.
Mikkelsen was satisfied too, having come out best in a three-way battle for fourth that became a duel on SS11 when Evgeny Novikov rolled out. “It’s been a great day, I’m happy that we managed to pull a little time back, [from Neuville] and we set some great times with no moments. It’s been fantastic,” he said.
Mads Ostberg is fifth, just 7.3sec further back, in his Qatar M-Sport Ford Fiesta RS. The Norwegian got a big step closer to Mikkelsen on the final forest stage, thanks in part to some suspension set-up advice from his father, and has fourth place in his sights on Sunday.
“It’s been a pretty good day for us,” he acknowledged. “We’ve found some improvements today and we can definitely try to fight back. I’m off to bed now for a good sleep. Tomorrow I’ll start with a good breakfast and then it’s flat-out!”
After Ostberg there is a gap of almost five minutes to Ford Fiesta RS driver Martin Prokop in sixth.
Dani Sordo is seventh, and Citroen’s sole remaining factory entry after Robert Kubica crashed out today for a second time. The Pole restarted after a crash on day two, but went off the road on SS11 after a pace-note misunderstanding.
WRC 2 leaders Elfyn Evans, Jari Ketomaa and Mark Higgins round off the top ten.
Sunday’s final day kicks off at 0856hrs with the 21.34km Dyfnant stage. The rally winner is scheduled to cross the finish podium in Llandudno at 1311hrs.