By David C. Schilke
In the closest finish in World Rally Championship history, Sebastien Ogier ended the second and final day of the Jordan Rally a mere two tenths of a second quicker than Jari-Matti Latvala. The Citroen ace clinched the Power Stage for the win, also entering the record books as the first driver to take maximum points from an event after new rules were enacted for the 2011 season. Ogier leaves the event sitting third in the title hunt. The youngster is now gunning for Sebastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen.
It was tough, but we never stopped thinking we could win, and Lady Luck smiled on us!
“Despite the fact that we were pushing like crazy, Jari-Matti gave us a hard time today” said Ogier “He banged in incredible times and we almost felt that there was nothing we could do about it. Thanks to the reversed order in the final stage, sweeping had no influence and we were able to do battle on an equal footing. It was tough, but we never stopped thinking we could win, and Lady Luck smiled on us! It’s hardly believable to win the rally by such a tiny margin, but we’ve bagged the maximum amount of points with the Power Stage bonus. That’s put us back in the title hunt and it augurs well the rest of the season.”
After a shortened two days and 14 stages the battle came down to the final stage, designated this event’s Power Stage, where Latvala held half a second on Ogier. Leading up to this decisive fight Ogier had lost time from starting first on the morning loop, while Latvala enjoyed a clear line and chased his rival down. By the penultimate stage the Ford driver finally caught Ogier and with one last stage to tackle the sprint race was on.
Ogier hit the stage hard and went third quickest in the first spilt-time of the test, Latvala was close in tow but was down a tenth. Then the Finn lost time out on the stage, while Ogier found his legs, earning the stage win with a time of 5:21.7. Latvala crossed the line with a 5:22.4, seven tenths slower. The rally was over; Ogier had won with an overall time of 2:48:28.2 to Latvala’s 2:48:28.4. Two tenths of a second is two blinks of an eye, or the front bumper of a Citroen DS3.
"It was a fantastic way for the rally to finish but I'm so disappointed to lose out," commented Latvala. "It hurts when you fight so hard and lose by such a small margin. I made a few small mistakes on the final stage but I had no option to attack as hard as I could. I took big risks all day, and it nearly paid off. My heart was pounding on several occasions because I almost hit big rocks.
"This was my fourth consecutive podium and they are valuable points. The car's performance was great all weekend and it's given me plenty of confidence for the next few gravel events,"added the Finn.
While the win was hotly contested third was a much more pressure free affair for Sebastien Loeb. The Frenchman lost second to Latvala in today’s morning loop and seemed settled in for the final podium by the afternoon. Loeb put his energy into the Power Stage, taking third on it after making a mistake and running wide. Yet that was enough to take over the points lead from Hirvonen, 74 to 72 respectively.
Hirvonen lucked into fourth after Petter Solberg retired from the rally on the first afternoon stage today. The Finn never recovered from sweeping the road on the first day and like Loeb put more of a focus on the Power Stage, where he was just edged by Ogier by 4 hundredths of a second. For now the Ford driver keeps second on the points, but Ogier is only three points away.
"I tried to look after my tyres so that I had maximum grip for the Power Stage," explained Hirvonen. "I thought I had done enough to take full bonus points, but lost by a few hundredths of a second. It was a difficult weekend because I spent so many kilometres yesterday sweeping the road, but I'm pleased to have come out of it in a strong position in the championship. Two fastest times gave me a good boost and showed that the pace of the car is extremely strong."
It was a tough break for Solberg, before retiring the Norwegian was in a fight with Loeb for third place. Once again the Norwegian privateer has shown his Citroen can match the pace of the factory cars, but just needs a little more luck to earn his first win since becoming a team owner.
"I am so disappointed right now,"said Solberg. "I was hoping for a podium finish here in Jordan but that’s how it is. Now we just have to look forward to the next event and the rest of the season. The car has worked perfectly both days, and I’m also happy about the new tyres supplied by Michelin."
Fifth went to Matthew Wilson for the Stobart M-Sport Ford Team. Privateer driver Kimi Raikkonen had his best finish in a year by taking sixth. The top eight were rounded out with Munchi’s Federico Villagra in seventh and local favorite Khalid Al Qassimi rounding out the order.