Ogier leads Wales mud bath
Even a late scare couldn’t stop World Rally Champion Sebastien Ogier as he mastered tricky conditions on the opening day at Wales Rally GB.
The Volkswagen star headed Ott Tanak (Ford) by 37.3sec despite a transmission problem near the end of the final stage which restricted the performance of his Polo R.
Ogier suspected a broken driveshaft, the same issue that also delayed team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen, who both lost huge chunks of time as they limped along the muddy gravel forest roads.
“I think the driveshaft is broken so I’m really happy the day is over,” said Ogier.
“It’s the front shaft. Jari-Matti and Andreas were unlucky too, but it’s something we need to work on because three cars with the same issue on the same day hasn’t happened before.”
Ogier won five of the eight special stages covering 178.22km, more than half the three-day rally’s competitive distance.
Usually on gravel rallies being first on the road is a disadvantage, however with wet and muddy conditions experienced in Wales, opening the stages was the place to be.
This meant Tanak’s performance was outstanding, as he started down the order and used the DMack tyre, with all the other leading teams on Michelin.
The Estonian won two stages in the morning to restrict Ogier’s mid-leg lead to 7.7sec. A rear suspension issue slowed him after lunch before a front right puncture 6km from the end of the final test cost more time.
Thierry Neuville won the final stage to hold third in a Hyundai i20. He was unhappy with his car’s handling initially but made steady progress up the order from eighth to improve his chances of securing the runner-up position in the FIA World Rally Championship.
The Belgian was 31.7sec adrift of Tanak and 3.8sec ahead of team-mate Hayden Paddon. The Kiwi drove the final stage with a puncture and regretted changing the set-up of his i20 midway through the day which adversely affected its handling.
“I’m happy with the progress we are making, particularly compared to last year and I think we can have a big attack for the podium tomorrow when the conditions are a bit more consistent and should suit us better,” said Paddon.
Kris Meeke yielded two places in the final stage to hold fifth in a Citroen DS 3. He was two seconds behind Paddon but comfortably clear of Dani Sordo’s i20 and Mads Ostberg’s Fiesta RS, the Norwegian relieved to escape a lurid slide into some bushes.
Latvala, Stéphane Lefebvre and WRC 2 leader Esapekka Lappi completed the leaderboard.
Mikkelsen started the rally level on points with Neuville. His transmission troubles relegated him to 19th and requiring a big fightback to keep alive his championship runner-up hopes. Craig Breen was the only major retirement, the Irishman crashing out of sixth in the afternoon.
Saturday’s second leg heads has two loops of stages before a short parkland test in England. Drier conditions are expected in the eight tests, which cover 99.81km and will stretch tyre endurance to the limit.
VIDEO: Morning Stages
VIDEO: Afternoon Stages
LEADERBOARD : Leg 1 – Wales Rally GB