Sebastien Ogier secured a remarkable victory at Wales Rally GB, an event that saw so many twists and turns in the fight for both outright victory and the World Rally Championship itself.
The Frenchman fought back from setbacks on Friday to take his first win since the Tour de Corse in April, and in doing so become the most successful crew in the history of Rally GB with five wins. With the win, he also significantly boosted his hopes for a sixth consecutive WRC crown, with the battle looking set to go down to the wire at the final round in Australia.
Jari-Matti Latvala looked set to spoil his party by taking the lead three stages before the end, but the Finn dropped time in the closing two stages to slip back to second, 10.6 seconds behind. Toyota teammate Esapekka Lappi rounded out the podium.
In the Driver’s Championship, Thierry Neuville managed to cling onto his lead but having only finished fifth, the Belgian’s advantage over Ogier has been slashed to just seven points with two rounds remaining. Ott Tanak’s heartbreaking retirement yesterday means he drops from second to third, a further 14 points behind. In the Manufacturer’s Championship, another double podium for Toyota sees the Japanese marque extend its advantage over Hyundai to 20 points.
Four crews went into today’s closing five stages still in the fight for victory, with Ogier holding a slim advantage. He pushed hard over the slippery stages and maintained his lead over Latvala until the Power Stage, which unusually ran as the second of the five stages. But, when Latvala picked up the maximum points for fastest time in this single stage, he leapt into a 3.6-second lead. The battle continued through the following stages with Latvala leading after SS21 before Ogier’s comeback and two stage wins saw him inch ahead of the Finn.
Behind Latvala and Lappi — who picked up a stage win today and his third podium of the season — Craig Breen finished a fine fourth for Citroen. The Irishman was on the outside of the four-way fight but he lost 26 seconds with a spin in the Power Stage and dropped out of the battle. After going off the road yesterday, Neuville managed to salvage fifth position and two points in the Power Stage but the Belgian has lost significant ground at the head of the championship table.
Teammates Andreas Mikkelsen and Hayden Paddon finished sixth and seventh respectively, the three Hyundai drivers and Mads Ostberg all in a close-knit group. Ostberg started the day fifth but gradually slipped back throughout the day, including with a spin, to finish eighth.
Kalle Rovanpera was another sensation of the event, the 18-year-old Skoda driver dominating the FIA WRC 2 Championship. He notched up his second WRC victory in just eight events to claim the win by more than 90 seconds over reigning category champion, Pontus Tidemand. Tom Williams also took a commanding victory in WRC 3, the Briton’s winning margin nearly five minutes over Enrico Brazzoli.
The penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship takes the contenders to the mixed surface Rally of Spain from October 25-28 October.