Dazzling display from Sébastien Ogier increases his advantage on the second day of Wales Rally GB.
Sébastien Ogier gave fans a dazzling display of all the skill and fine-tuned finesse that has made him three times an FIA World Rally Champion as he tamed the elements and mastered the mud to increase his advantage on the second day of Wales Rally GB
• Rain, mud and night-time stages challenge competitors on day two
• Volkswagen star Sébastien Ogier stretches his legs at head of the field
• Kris Meeke on course for first British podium on home turf since 2001
• Welsh hero Elfyn Evans catches the eye with string of top six times
On what was one of the longest and most challenging days in Rally GB history – befitting of the finale to the 2015 WRC campaign – the first crew left the Deeside Service Park at 5:15am and did not return for the overnight halt until 9:30pm. In-between, they covered no fewer than 140 competitive kilometres – including two night-time stages, one of the classic features of this staple of the WRC calendar.
Behind the wheel of his Volkswagen Polo R WRC, Ogier won four of the day’s speed tests to maintain and ultimately extend his margin over Kris Meeke, who continues to valiantly give chase in pursuit of a first British victory on the event in 15 years.
No quarter was given by either driver, and with four stages remaining on Sunday – including the legendary Great Orme and the points-paying Power Stage – and more inclement weather on the horizon, nothing can be taken for granted. The battle goes on!
“It’s been a very long day,” acknowledged Ogier. “It was tough for me this morning, because my thoughts were completely elsewhere after learning of the tragic events in Paris. That made it difficult to concentrate on the rally, but I took the decision to carry on and try to win for everybody we lost last night.
“Conditions weren’t easy, with a lot of rain and some very slippery stages, but we had a good run and stayed out of trouble and here we are.”
Meeke was warm in his praise for the thousands of supporters who lined the forests – especially his strong fanbase at the so-called ‘Irish Corner’ in Dyfnant, who braved it out as the rain came down to cheer their hero on by day and by night.
“This is a proper Rally GB,” he enthused. “I really enjoyed driving in the dark tonight, and hats off to all the spectators out there. The weather hasn’t been kind this weekend, so to remain out in the forest all that time is a real commitment.
“For us, it’s been a solid day. We knew this morning that in terms of pace, Seb had enough in his pocket to be able to control proceedings, and our objective this weekend has always been to secure second position in the manufacturers’ table for Citroën. When Mads [Østberg – team-mate] ran into problems, that simply crystallised what I had to do.”
Saturday’s action as it unfolded…
The leg began with a short blast through the fast and open Gartheiniog stage (SS7), and a steady run from Ogier enabled closest pursuer Meeke to trim the deficit to the rally leader to just over 12 seconds.
Thierry Neuville in the Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC surprised with the fastest time, but there was no home advantage for Elfyn Evans – who resides just a few kilometres down the road – as the Welshman lost time with a hairpin stall in his M-Sport World Rally Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
Next on the agenda was Dyfi 1, in the shadow of Snowdonia and at 25.86km, the longest test of the day. Rain added to the challenge of this Wales Rally GB classic, which had not been used in its current format in more than 15 years. Taking full advantage of his early running position, Neuville added another stage win to his tally as Ogier extended the margin over Meeke by three seconds and Evans impressed with the fifth-quickest time.
It was, however, a punishing experience for two other leading WRC stars. A broken driveshaft spelled retirement for the luckless Jari-Matti Latvala, whilst a puncture for Mads Østberg cost the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team man almost a minute.
The cat-and-mouse scenario between Ogier and Meeke continued on the second pass through Gartheiniog as the rain intensified, with the Northern Irishman outpacing his French rival by 1.4 seconds. Andreas Mikkelsen upheld VW honours with the fastest time.
If Ogier was feeling the pressure, then he responded magnificently on Dyfi 2, with none of his adversaries able to get within five seconds of the World Champion’s time. Behind third-placed Mikkelsen, gearbox issues that precipitated a minor ‘off’ for Dani Sordo and a high-speed spin for Ott Tänak shuffled the order in the battle for fourth overall.
The first run through Dyfnant saw Neuville’s morning momentum stopped firmly in its tracks as the Belgian dramatically rolled his Hyundai – thankfully without injury. Ogier found the stricken i20 WRC blocking his path and lost half-a-minute – although with the incident being out of his control, he was later issued with a more representative time.
In a separate incident, Østberg lost an even larger chunk of time with a ‘moment’ that pitched him into a ditch, requiring outside assistance to extract his Citroën and elevating Tänak to fourth in the classification behind stage winner Mikkelsen. M-Sport’s Evans gave the partisan supporters plenty of reason for cheer with the third-fastest time.
Ogier turned up the wick again on the 13.91km Aberhirnant 1 – a wide and ultra-fast test that truly rewards the brave. Next up was the fan-favourite Chirk Castle RallyFest stage, witnessing the first win for a Ford Fiesta RS WRC on the event as Tänak stole the limelight from his higher-profile rivals in front of thousands of hardy spectators.
The cars subsequently made their way back to a busy Deeside for a 30-minute service halt, as team mechanics re-fettled the flame-spitting ‘pocket rockets’ ahead of the eagerly-anticipated evening stages under the cover of darkness.
Ogier headed into the night holding a lead of 30.5 seconds over Meeke, with Mikkelsen a similar margin behind in third and Tänak, Sordo, Paddon, Evans and Østberg squabbling over fourth.
Mikkelsen and Ogier were the class of the field through the pitch black Dyfnant 2 – although Meeke remained right on the leader’s case – before the Frenchman demonstrated his class by storming to VW’s 500th stage win on the second blast through Aberhirnant.
That saw the Frenchman stretch his advantage over Meeke to 35.7 seconds by the end of play on Saturday, with Mikkelsen consolidating third just over a minute adrift of the lead. Tänak, Sordo, Paddon and Evans remain embroiled in a four-way fight for fourth, although Østberg conceded ground as the day advanced. The current top ten is completed by Stéphane Lefebvre (Citroën DS3 WRC) and ex-Formula 1 star Robert Kubica (Ford Fiesta RS WRC).
Eric Camilli sped further ahead of the WRC 2 field in his Ford Fiesta R5, with Craig Breen enjoying a strong day to move up to third in class and 14th overall behind the wheel of his Peugeot 208 T16 R5. Chris Ingram advanced to second in the WRC 3 category and maintained the same position in Junior WRC in his Citroën DS3 R3T.
David Higgins is the top Production Class runner and non-priority driver in his Group N Subaru WRX STI, bearing a livery that pays tribute to the 20th anniversary of the late Colin McRae’s title triumph.
Reigning Scottish Rally Champion Jock Armstrong continues to lead the Network Q WRGB National Rally in his Subaru Impreza – albeit by a reduced margin from last year’s winner Mike Faulkner (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX) – with five-time British Rally Champion Jimmy McRae 14th in his evocative Vauxhall Firenza Can-Am.
The final day of the 2015 WRC season will kick off at 08:26 on Sunday and will feature four stages – including a return to the iconic Great Orme – before the winners are crowned in front of the teams and fans back in the Service Park.
2015 Wales Rally GB – Classification at end of Day Two (after 15 of 19 Special Stages)
1. Sébastien Ogier (FRA) VW Polo R WRC 2h 40m 25.2s
2. Kris Meeke (GBR) Citroën DS3 WRC +35.7s
3. Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR) VW Polo R WRC +1m 00.4s
4. Ott Tänak (EST) Ford Fiesta RS WRC +2m 41.1s
5. Dani Sordo (SPA) Hyundai i20 WRC +2m 55.8s
6. Hayden Paddon (NZL) Hyundai i20 WRC +3m 13.9s
7. Elfyn Evans (GBR) Ford Fiesta RS WRC +3m 18.3s
8. Mads Østberg (NOR) Citroën DS3 WRC +4m 21.9s
9. Stéphane Lefebvre (FRA) Citroën DS3 WRC +5m 32.6s
10. Robert Kubica (POL) Ford Fiesta RS WRC +6m 31.8s
WALES RALLY GB 2015 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP – ROUND 13
Sunday 15 November
07:00 Service – Deeside (15 mins)
08:26 Brenig 1 (Stage 16)
08:52 Alwen (Stage 17)
10:20 Great Orme (Stage 18)
10:31 Regroup: Llandudno (25 mins)
12:08 Brenig 2 (Power Stage 19)
13:51 Ceremonial Finish – Deeside Service Park
* All times are for the first car and subject to change
Words via Wales Rally GB / Pictures @ World
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