We’re approaching the end of both the Formula One and WRC seasons. In both a chap called Seb has already tied up the world championship. But while the Austin GP in the US of A was another dull processional affair, Wales Rally GB was anything but.
The route was a belter, featuring some stages not used for 20 years, the weather was biblically bad in the week leading up to the rally, but then dried up for the event itself. This meant the stages themselves were typically difficult for the drivers, but that the spectators didn’t get lightly drowned. Result.
Sebastian Ogier might be the newly crowned world champ, but he had a lot to prove, having never finished inside the top 10 at Wales Rally GB. His bogey event or just bad luck? Either way, the feeling that he couldn’t properly declare himself world champion with this round missing from his resume must have been there. But on Thursday night he was fastest on two of the opening three night stages, ahead of VW Polo team mate Jari-Matti Latvala and Ford M-Sport’s Thierry Neuville in a Fiesta.
Citroen, the team that had experienced so much success for so long with one Seb Loeb? One step back from the podium, Mikko Hirvonen lying fourth. It wouldn’t get any better than that for Citroen, the team experiencing a particularly bleak Friday. First Robert Kubica slid off the road, then team leader Hirvonen was off, rolling spectacularly into the scenery.
Intermittent flashes of brilliance by the third Citroen of Dani Sordo were not enough to close the gap to the leaders, and even though Citroen got Kubica going again on Saturday, he promptly slid off the road again. For good, this time. Not the most auspicious debut at Rally GB for a man who must be hoping to bag a full house WRC seat next year after wining the non-turbo 2.0-litre WRC2 category this year.
No such problems afflicted the top three, Latvala pegging Ogier’s lead at 25 seconds. In fact Ogier didn’t win a single stage on Saturday, but neither did he lose any time to Latvala, the winner for the last two years on the trot. Latvala pushed hard but claimed not to ‘have the feeling’ and made too many errors. The honorary winner from Saturday was Andreas Mikkelsen in the third VW Polo, who closed on Neuville’s podium position, coming close to making it a VW 1-2-3.
Mikkelsen’s threat faded on Sunday following a spin, and he dropped to fifth behind the Ford Fiesta of Mads Ostberg. This left the top three in the order they’d been since day one: Ogier, Latvala, Neuville. So, a maiden victory at Wales Rally GB for Seb Ogier, a hard pushed second for his teammate, while third place here secured Thierry Neuville runners-up spot in the championship standings. My predictions from Thursday? I had the right three, but not necessarily in the right order…
Words and Pictures: Ollie Marriage