David C. Schilke, WRC correspondent
After taking over the Rally de France lead yesterday, Frenchman Sebastien Ogier had an easy Sunday drive to earn his first victory on home soil. Capitalizing on Sebastien Loeb's retirement on Friday, the Citroen driver has now tied Mikko Hirvonen for second in the championship and sits only three points away from title leader Loeb. This marks the second consecutive tarmac event where Loeb has failed to win, giving his younger teammate the opportunity to steal the show. As for Citroen, their record of tarmac dominance continues, and now holds 60 points over their Ford rivals in the Teams’ Championship.
“It’s been a very long rally as I carried the responsibility for the whole team on my shoulders," said Ogier. "I’m just happy to be able to relax. Obviously, this victory means a lot to me from a personal point of view. Five wins in a season is already a pretty good achievement. I’d like to thank the team which gave me a perfect car. Congratulations also to Dani Sordo; he drove really well all weekend and it wasn’t easy to beat him.”
The surprise of the event was Dani Sordo, who proved the pace of the new MINI on tarmac is no fluke by taking second today, bettering his third place podium in Germany two months ago. The Spaniard held the lead for a short while before Ogier turned up the pace on Saturday. Sordo and the MINI team are sure to be strong contenders in the upcoming Rally of Spain tarmac event later this month.
“As you can imagine I am really, really happy to finish in second position," smiled Sordo. "It is an incredible result for the team so thank you to them and also to Carlos who has been great all rally. I think no-one here expected this before the rally, but we were fighting for the victory and at the end were just 6.3 seconds behind Sébastien Ogier. When you set good stage times as we have here in France, you always enjoy it. Before our first event we did not expect to be doing so well so soon. I am very pleased to be going to my home event in Spain in this position. The car was set-up well here, so I am confident it will be the same in Spain.”
Petter Solberg rounded out the top three, even with a spin on today’s stage 2. The Citroen privateer earned his third podium of the year and sits fifth in the driver’s title fight. The Norwegian is still after his first overall win since becoming a team owner.
Ford teammates Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala finished in fourth and fifth, respectively. Latvala held the better position heading into the final test but the team made the important decision to have the Finn lose his place to fellow countryman Hirvonen, who is closing in on Loeb’s championship lead.
“I owe Jari-Matti a big thank you," said Hirvonen. "Again he proved what a superb team player he is. There’s no more room for error over the final two rounds and it should be a great end to the championship."
Latvala obliged the wishes of his team and took a 2 minute penalty before the event’s Power Stage but he was also careful to send a message that he was indeed the faster driver today by earning that stage win and the three championship points that goes with it. In all, Latvala tallied seven stage wins this weekend.
“It was my best performance on asphalt. I made some mistakes and I wasn’t consistent enough, so I still I need to sustain pace and consistency for the whole rally, but it’s just about fine-tuning. I was hesitant on asphalt before but I’m not afraid of it any more. Being a Finn and being good on asphalt isn’t easy, but I’m getting better and better,” explained Latvala.
Dennis Kuipers took sixth for FERM Power Tools, followed by Stobart teammates Henning Solberg and Mads Ostberg. American driver Ken Block scored ninth with Pierre Campana finishing tenth in a MINI Cooper, with both drivers earning their first championship points of the season.
Petter Solberg has been excluded from today's results after the rally stewards found the team's Citroen to be underweight by 4kg on four occasions at the scale. There have been no comments from Solberg or the team, or any word on what caused the car to by under the minimum weight.
This exclusion has affected the championship order, as Hirvonon is now scored in third place and ties Loeb in the championship at 196 points apiece. Ogier then sits third in the title fight. Solberg will retain his fifth in points but now sits 21 points behind Latvala.
“It’s unfortunate to inherit a position due to a rival’s misfortune, but at this stage of the season every point counts,” said Hirvonen. “We’ll go to the next round in Spain as joint leaders of the championship and with just two rounds remaining, the fight for the title is truly wide open. I aim to be on top form in Spain and an exciting conclusion to the year is in prospect. I can’t wait!”