Sebastien Ogier elects to start second after setting fastest qualifying time. His Volkswagen teammate Jari-Matti Latvala will start first on the road.
Sebastien Ogier won what is likely to be the WRC's last qualifying stage at Wales Rally GB after edging out Thierry Neuville by seven hundredths of a second.
In wild weather, the Frenchman was fastest through the 3.11km Llandegla stage in his Volkswagen Polo R and earned first pick of his start position for tonight’s opening leg during the selection process this afternoon.
Qualifying is set to be scrapped for 2014 and conditions this morning were extremely unpleasant as hail, heavy rain and fierce winds brought typical Rally GB weather for the narrow but fast forest test.
Ogier was unconcerned and told wrc.com at the finish: “Sometimes conditions mean it’s an advantage to be first on the road and today it wasn’t a disadvantage. The grip was good, in fact the rain helped with the grip and it’s OK to be first through.”
Neuville, who aims to secure the runners-up spot in the championship, was disappointed not to beat the 2013 champion in his Ford Fiesta RS. “It wasn’t my best stage. I tried to push hard near the end but lost a few tenths near the start when I was too careful in places,” said the Belgian.
Ogier and Neuville were significantly faster than anyone else. Evgeny Novikov shrugged off a crash while testing in north-west England last week to post third fastest time in his Fiesta RS, but the Russian was 1.8sec behind Ogier.
Jari-Matti Latvala, who is fighting Neuville for second in the championship, was 2.1sec down in fourth, the Finn unsure whether softening the set-up of his Polo R since the pre-event test brought any benefit.
“I was too careful. I wasn’t confident enough and slowed in the faster sections. I’ve changed the set-up since my test. It was too hard before but I think I had better grip then,” he explained.
Mads Ostberg and Mikko Hirvonen completed the top six, but Hirvonen was not happy. “I didn’t have a good feeling, it’s not a good start,” said the Citroen DS3 pilot.
Robert Kubica was seventh on his World Rally Car debut, the Pole satisfied with his performance but admitting he ‘had a lot to learn’.
Latvala chooses first on road in GB
Jari-Matti Latvala has chosen to start first on the road in tonight's opening leg of Wales Rally GB after Volkswagen team-mate Sebastien Ogier declined the opportunity of leading the field away from the Conwy start.
After winning qualifying this morning in his Polo R by seven hundredths of a second, Ogier was first to select his start position. Cautious of being first to tackle the wet and slimy roads in the dark tonight, the Frenchman opted for second in the order.
“I know that if I choose to be first then everyone will follow. So I will take the second one just to see what happens,” said a smiling Ogier.
Thierry Neuville and Evgeny Novikov, second and third in qualifying, followed Ogier’s strategy and selected third and fourth in the order. However, Latvala, wary of being too low in deteriorating road conditions, took the plunge and selected first.
“At this time of the year you normally find the roads are quite wet and damp, and then there is a thin layer of gravel on top. By being first in the start order you normally get the benefit from that, and then the mud starts to build up on the road,” Latvala told wrc.com.
“The optimum place for me to see the braking lines would have been second or third on the road. Going fifth would have been too low, so I would rather be first. I feel more comfortable to be opening the road than being further back,” he added.
The remaining drivers each chose the highest start position available to them.
Drivers used numbered rugby balls to select their position. They autographed them afterwards and they will be auctioned for the Gareth Roberts Fund.
The fund was set up in memory of Roberts, who died in a crash at the Targa Florio Rally in Sicily in June 2012 while co-driving for Craig Breen. It aims to help competitors injured in rally accidents and to set up an academy to help talented young co-drivers reach the top of the sport.
The full start order for the leading drivers is:
1. Jari-Matti Latvala
2. Sebastien Ogier
3. Thierry Neuville
4. Evgeny Novikov
5. Mads Ostberg
6. Mikko Hirvonen
7. Robert Kubica
8. Dani Sordo
9. Andreas Mikkelsen
10 Martin Prokop
11 Michal Solowow