Sebastien Ogier delivered a driving masterclass today to overturn a 45sec deficit and win an absorbing Rally de Espana in a Volkswagen Polo R.
The Frenchman’s eighth victory of the year guaranteed Volkswagen Motorsport the manufacturers’ world title in its first season, adding to the drivers’ crown that Ogier secured in France earlier this month.
Team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala survived late dramas to finish 32.9sec behind Ogier and Mikko Hirvonen completed the podium in a Citroen DS3, another 40.8sec behind. Former leader Dani Sordo’s hopes of victory in his home rally ended in the penultimate test with broken suspension in his DS3.
After losing almost a minute and the lead with a broken wheel rim yesterday, Ogier began today’s third and final leg in fourth place.
Gravel tracks replaced the asphalt of the opening two days, and his lower start position guaranteed faster roads as his rivals ahead swept them clean of stones. However, dust hanging in the still morning air negated the advantage and combined with blinding low sunshine to restrict visibility.
Ogier set an incredible pace, overhauling Sordo early this afternoon before moving ahead of overnight leader Latvala in the penultimate test. He sealed victory with another crushing performance in the final stage.
“It was a fantastic day. We pushed really hard. We didn’t know if it would be possible because we knew dust would be a problem but we took risks this morning. We were fast and I trusted my pace notes 100 per cent,” he said.
An emotional Ogier dedicated his win to Sean Edwards, leader of the Porsche Supercup championship, who died in a testing accident 12 days ago. Edwards was Ogier’s team-mate during his guest appearance in the Supercup race at the Monaco Grand Prix in May.
“I realise sometimes that there are more important things in life. I lost a really good friend and I want to dedicate this victory to him and to his family,” he added.
Latvala was lucky to finish after completing the penultimate stage with a fire in the engine bay of his Polo R. Marshals reacted quickly to extinguish the flames, caused by a leaking fuel pipe, but the Finn also had a differential problem, which he carried through the final stage.
Mikko Hirvonen enjoyed a quiet day and looked set for fourth, despite a small spin this afternoon. However, team-mate Sordo’s demise as he battled to stay in touch with Latvala and Ogier, promoted Hirvonen onto the podium.
“It was a shame for Dani. It would have been nice to see him on the podium at his home event,” said a generous Hirvonen.
Thierry Neuville finished fourth in a Ford Fiesta RS. The Belgian struggled with his car’s set-up on asphalt and was similarly unhappy this morning, when he also dropped a minute with a puncture. Changes to the differentials improved his confidence and he stays second in the drivers’ standings, 14 points ahead of Latvala.
Team-mates Evgeny Novikov and Mads Ostberg were fifth and sixth in Fiesta RS cars, the duo separated by 25.0sec. Ostberg was happier on gravel and posted a string of top three times.
Czech driver Martin Prokop was seventh, almost two minutes ahead of Hayden Paddon. The Kiwi was relieved to finish his World Rally Car debut but spent the entire event modifying the set-up on his Fiesta RS after virtually no testing.
WRC 2 winner Robert Kubica was ninth, with Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari, normally his rival for the category title but driving a Fiesta RS World Rally Car here, completing the top 10.
Today’s other major retirement was Andreas Mikkelsen. The Norwegian won today’s opening two stages but retired after the penultimate test with suspension damage to his Polo R.
The final round, Wales Rally GB, takes place on 14 - 17 November.