Sebastien Ogier delivered a masterclass display in treacherous conditions today to win Rally de France - Alsace and bookend a perfect weekend after clinching his maiden drivers' world title on Thursday.
After a lacklustre Friday when the euphoria of Thursday night’s title win left him jaded and down in fifth, the Frenchman roared back into contention with a string of stage wins yesterday in his Volkswagen Polo R.
Ogier started today’s final leg as one of four drivers chasing victory, covered by just five seconds. But he stamped his authority with a dominant win in the rain-soaked opening stage to build an advantage he managed through to the Strasbourg finish.
He won by 12.2sec from Dani Sordo, revitalised in his Citroen DS3 following his win in Germany in August. Jari-Matti Latvala was a further 7.3sec behind in another Polo R, both having led before Ogier took control.
“There has been so much emotion this weekend,” said Ogier, for whom this was his seventh win of the season. “After the excitement of winning the title on Thursday, it was difficult to get back into the race. But we couldn’t stay like that all weekend and decided to react yesterday.
“We pushed to the maximum then and this morning we soon made a gap at the front. Then we had to bring the car home, which wasn’t easy in the rain and mud. We started the story from zero with Volkswagen last year, and now we’re close to the manufacturers’ title as well,” he added.
Sordo led when Thierry Neuville dropped back with a puncture after sliding his Ford Fiesta RS into a kerb yesterday afternoon. Although he could not fend off Ogier, he was happy with second.
“There’s always disappointment when you finish second but it’s another podium in a rally in which we were fighting all the time for first,” he said. “When you’re in the car and see how difficult it is to take just one second back, and Ogier is 15sec ahead, you have to be realistic. We pushed, but Ogier is champion for a reason.”
Latvala was relieved after a troubled run of rallies. “I didn’t make a single mistake here, it was my most consistent rally for a long time. I’ve had a lot of pressure lately after mistakes in Finland, Germany and Australia and it eats your mind,” he admitted.
There was no fairy tale ending to Sebastien Loeb’s WRC career. Having led the opening leg, the Frenchman started today 5.0sec from the top and hopeful of celebrating a 79th victory at the final stage in his home town of Haguenau.
However, he rolled his Citroen DS3 into retirement 1km into the opening test. “I lost the rear in a fast right corner, and then we had a spin and I finished in the ditch. And that was the race over. I would have preferred to have finished my last rally here, but it didn’t go according to plan,” said Loeb.
Neuville’s disappointment at missing a maiden WRC win after leading by more than 16sec was huge. But the Belgian recovered to finish fourth, almost a minute behind Latvala, and he remains second in the drivers’ standings.
Evgeny Novikov avoided trouble to finish fifth in a Fiesta RS, but the Russian was almost two minutes behind Neuville and frustrated at being unable to find the speed he desired.
An unwell Mikko Hirvonen rarely matched the pace of the frontrunners but, apart from sliding off the road briefly this morning, he made no mistakes in his DS3 to take sixth. Seventh was Andreas Mikkelsen in his first asphalt event in a Polo R with Mads Ostberg eighth in a Fiesta RS, despite losing a minute off the road this morning.
The leaderboard was completed by WRC 2 winner Robert Kubica and Romain Dumas, after Martin Prokop retired his Fiesta RS with broken suspension.
The penultimate round is the mixed surface Rally de Espana on 24 - 27 October.