Victory on Rally de Portugal today made it three wins from three rallies for Volkswagen Motorsport’s Sebastien Ogier.
The Frenchman, 29, took the lead of the Algarve-based event on Friday’s third test, after early leader Mads Ostberg crashed his Ford Fiesta RS.
Ogier, and co-driver Julien Ingrassia, went on to win by 58.2sec from Citroen Total Abu Dhabi team driver Mikko Hirvonen in a Citroen DS3.
The result extended Ogier's lead in the FIA Drivers’ Championship and he now has 102 points, 54 ahead of Hirvonen in second.
It’s a perfect result but this week has been really complicated for us.
Today’s win was the ninth at World Rally Championship level for Ogier, who has won the Portuguese round twice before with Citroen in 2010 and 2011.
To do it this time however he had to overcome an energy-sapping virus and a transmission problem on Sunday morning that almost cost him the lead.
At the end of the rally-closing Power Stage, having earned another three bonus championship points, Ogier was understandably relieved.
“It’s a perfect result but this week has been really complicated for us,” he said. “I came here on Monday and wasn’t even sure I would be able to do the rally - I was completely kaput.
“The team has done a good job because this was a very rough rally and we have had many small problems. They managed to fix the car all the time so big congratulations to them.“
“Today was more than stressful for me, and at the start of the first one I thought the rally was over because the clutch was slipping. Finally it came back. It was a kind of miracle,” he added.
Volkswagen began Sunday’s competition on course for a 1-2 finish, with Jari-Matti Latvala second in another Polo R. But like Ogier, Latvala also hit trouble on the opening stage. A broken driveshaft cost the Finn more than four minutes and he lost his place to Hirvonen.
“It’s been a tough day and a tough rally,” said Hirvonen. “A podium is okay but I wasn’t happy with my pace this weekend. We weren’t fast enough so we must keep working to try and improve.”
His car fixed at the midpoint service, Latvala went on to finish 3m06s behind Hirvonen. He rounded off the rally with a bonus point on the Power Stage and was delighted by his new-found confidence in the Polo R.
“Third place is my first podium with Volkswagen so I’m happy with that,” said Latvala. “I had a really good run in the Power Stage and I’m feeling pretty satisfied with the rally.
“So far this year I think I have been in taxi mode. This weekend I decided to force myself to start delivering results. From Argentina onwards I hope to be right there, fighting for victories” he added.
Evgeny Novikov was fourth in a Fiesta RS, more than a minute behind Latvala. The Russian finished 5m27s off Ogier’s lead and was still unable to explain his lack of pace this weekend. “Okay, fourth place is very good for us in the championship. We tried to take what we could. Now we must look at getting quicker. I have some ideas,” he said.
A consistent drive netted Nasser Al-Attiyah fifth in another Fiesta RS. The Qatari completed 2m25s behind Novikov and put his experience of cross-country rallying to good effect on the tough Portuguese stages. “I’m really happy with the performance this weekend. It’s been hard but I enjoyed it and am looking forward to my next race,” he said.
Andreas Mikkelsen was sixth on his first event in Volkswagen’s Polo R. Adapting from Super 2000 to World Rally Car machinery, the Norwegian youngster was satisfied with what he had achieved. “There are still many more rounds to go and I’m looking forward to Argentina and learning some more,” he said.
Dennis Kuipers was on course to finish seventh until his Ford Fiesta RS developed an engine problem at the end of SS14. The Dutchman retired on the road section to SS15.
This moved Martin Prokop to seventh in a Fiesta RS while Ostberg in a similar car salvaged four points for eighth after restarting on Saturday. “Overall the times were good, and even with the crash it’s been a positive event for me,” said Ostberg, who also collected two bonus points for finishing second on the Power Stage.
Khalid Al Qassimi was ninth with WRC-2 winner Esapekka Lappi tenth in a Skoda Fabia S2000 to take the final drivers’ championship point.
Michal Kosciuszko joined Kuipers as a last-minute retirement from Portugal. The Pole stopped 7km into the final stage when the gearbox in his Mini JCW broke. He had been 12th.
The next round of the World Rally Championship starts in less that three weeks when Rally Argentina gets underway on 1 May.