Nancy Knapp Schilke, WRC Correspondent
Ogier and Sordo ready to battle for the victory on Sunday
On a day that started out with the morning dew, Sebastien Ogier went to work carefully to challenge MINI driver Dani Sordo for the overall lead in this weekend’s World Rally Championship competition in Alsace, France. On the asphalt route, the Citroen driver had to concentrate in order to not make a mistake even while pushing hard to gain the top spot on the Rallye de France leaderboard after the second day. The Frenchman ended the day with nine stage wins and a 9.5 second lead over the Spaniard.
“Finally, I was really able to go for it during the afternoon. The roads were in a better state than yesterday so it was easier to push,” said the overall leader. “We’ve managed to open up a small gap over Dani, but we can’t simply try and hold on to our first place if we want to win this rally. The last stage is quite unusual, only forty timed kilometers, no service halt and short stages with a lot of gravel. It’s not going to be all that easy, but we’ll do our best to offer the win and the points that go with it to the whole team.”
However, we will still keep trying for the win.
It was a see-saw battle on the first identical loops in the Vosges mountain range and the vineyards along the 148.39km route today. Ogier opened the day with the win on SS9 but it was on the 11th stage where he gained the overall lead but not from Sordo, it was the privateer Petter Solberg who led the way on SS10 and therefore took the top of the leaderboard. Ogier did not hold it long before Sordo took the lead with his fastest time on the 12th stage. The Frenchman again placed his Citroen in the lead on SS13 and kept it during the afternoon loops. Ogier also scored the final special that was on the streets of Mulhouse.
“I suppose I have to admit I am not happy to be second, but if you stop and think about our performance with the car, after having covered so few kilometres and to be fighting for best stage times, then this is great,” said Sordo. “It is really great to be just 9.5 seconds behind Sébastien Ogier. Everything is still possible, but tomorrow is a short day with some difficult gravel sections. If he doesn’t make any mistakes he will be difficult to beat, as today we took some small risks and still didn’t beat him. However, we will still keep trying for the win, but will still be happy to finish second.”
Solberg is third in his team’s Citroen with less than one minute off the pace of Ogier. The Norwegian held the lead before a slow puncture slowed him down but he has not given up the fight and said, “Today has been really good. The car is so fast and it is fantastic to drive, and I actually think I could win a rally with it as it is now. Unfortunately we had a puncture that cost us a lot of time. Also, when the rubber came off it damaged the damper a bit, so it has not been 110% during the afternoon. Still we have been setting really good times today!”
The Ford Abu Dhabi team improved on the first day – after they both went off the road yesterday – by ending day two in fourth and fifth as they prepare for the final leg with their main focus to finish with the needed points for the championship fight. It means more now than when they arrived in France as Sebastien Loeb was force to retire when his Citroen had an ill engine yesterday.
Jari-Matti Latvala won the 16th stage today and is 1:36 behind the leader. Mikko Hirvonen is further back and it is expected that his goal is to run cleanly with no errors for the points. Usually on the final day, risk taking is only between those whose gaps are close; which is the case for Ogier and Sordo. Third is also on the line but Latvala will have to gain around 30 seconds to overtake Solberg.
“My speed was good but I’m still lacking consistency on this surface. I made small mistakes, nothing major, on every stage this morning and found it tough to get a clean run,” Latvala said. “I read the road surface and I understand how the grip changes. But I need to work more on that because I’m not taking in that information as fast as I need to.
“I pushed harder this afternoon and my confidence improved. I want to take that into tomorrow and translate it into my driving, so that I can improve from being a good asphalt driver into an excellent one. We worked well as a team today and that’s satisfying,” he added.
Behind the Ford Finns are Dennis Kuipers in a privateer Ford, Armindo Araujo in a privateer MINI entry and M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg and all are in a tight battle behind Hirvonen.