M-Sport Ford World Rally Team drivers Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia threw down the gauntlet to their competitors with an all-out attack on Wales Rally GB’s ‘Super Saturday’ to jump from 5th place overnight to take the lead in what is proving to be an epic three way battle for the 2018 FIA WRC Drivers Championship.
The crews left Deeside Rally Village at 0530 under cover of darkness for the longest and arguably the most difficult day of the rally. With 150.24km to cover over nine (9) special stages crucially without the traditional midday service, the crews battled the changeable conditions to return to Deeside 14 hours later with the leaderboard flipped after a day of high speed action on the classic rallying stages of mid Wales.
The French pairing who have won this rally 4 times in the last 5 years started the day in the best possible way moving from an overnight 5th position to 3rd with a stunning time on the days opening stage ‘Myherin’. 3rd became 2nd one stage later when Championship leader, Thierry Neuville slipped off the road and lost 45s while the enthusiastic Welsh fans pushed him back onto the special stage. This elevated Sebastien and Julien to 2nd overall as the tight battle for the podium places captivated the 1000s of spectators that lined the roadside.
At the lunchtime regroup in the centre of Newtown, 7s covered 2nd to 5th place overall as the fight for the podium raged on. Through the afternoon repeat stages, the battle for the podium became the battle for the lead as Championship challenger Ott Tanak retired with a technical issue on SS16 ‘Sweet Lamb Hafren’.
Over the closing stages of the day, a duel erupted between former team-mates Ogier / Ingrassia and Jari-Matti Latvala / Miikka Anttilla with the French duo taking the overnight lead with a margin of 4.4s.
In the second Ford Fiesta WRC, the home crew of Elfyn Evans / Dan Barritt fought off the disappointment of an early retirement on day one of their home rally when a sensor on the engine failed leaving them unable to start the second loop of stages. Without the ability to fight to defend their memorable 2017 win, Elfyn and Dan concentrated on consolidating their knowledge of the stages and entertaining the fans that lined the route.
With another 0530 start tomorrow, the winner of the 2018 Wales Rally GB will be decided over 55.6kms of North Wales stages including two runs over the tarmac covered Great Orme Toll Road finishing in the centre of Llandudno.
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“Today has been pretty close to a perfect day for Sebastien and Julien. Last night I was sitting here thinking how much things can change in 12 months – but today really has been a ‘Super Saturday’ for us and tonight I am thinking how much it can all change in 24 hours!
This season has been incredible – we really felt after Turkey that we were on the back foot coming here, but if the result ends as it is now the two final events will probably be like nothing I have seen before in the last twenty years of doing this job.
This morning we had a target to get to 2nd in the rally – but with Ott’s problems that helped us get into the lead of the rally. At the moment it is not a comfortable lead with Jari (Matti Latvala) breathing down our neck but it is a lead nonetheless.
It really is going to be a fantastic battle tomorrow. The stages will suit Seb and the car a bit more. I just hope that Tommi (Makinen) is going to tell Jari to think about the manufacturers championship points!
Elfyn has had a difficult job to do today after the disappointment of retiring from the fight for the lead yesterday, but he has done a great job in front of the passionate Welsh rally fans and I hope that he can push tomorrow and finish the job in style.”
OGIER AND INGRASSIA
Lying in 5th place overnight, 5 time World Champions Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia showed their determination to win again and put in a champions display to climb up the leader board through a humongous day of 150km of special stages. Up to 3rd with fastest time on the opening stage, misfortune for championship rival Thierry Neuville on the first run through the ‘Sweet Lamb Hafren’ stage helped the M-Sport Ford crew to 2nd. This was followed by a further climb into the lead of the rally when technical issues befell the leader and fellow championship rival Ott Tanak. Sébastien and Julien now find themselves in a tight battle with Jari-Matti Latvala for the lead of the rally as only 4.4s separate the drivers going into the final day.
SS11: 6th (+9.6s)
SS12: 4th (+2.5s)
SS13: 7th (+3.3s)
SS14: 6th (+1.6s)
SS16: 2nd (+2.6s)
SS17: 4th (+2.6s)
SS18: 5th (+5.2s)
Sébastien Ogier (1st) said:
“Today has been a good day, but being in the lead tonight is a bit of a surprise. When I heard about Ott [Tänak], I really felt for him because he was much faster than all of us this weekend. Instead of fighting for second place we now find ourselves in a big fight for the victory. Yesterday was a tough one and I said I would take full risk - and it worked. We finally had a clean day without problems. But it’s very close and it won’t be easy to maintain the lead tomorrow. We have to keep fighting.”
EVANS AND BARRITT
Faced with the disappointment of having to retire from a battle for the lead of the rally on the opening day – local crew Elfyn Evans and Dan Barritt climbed from 39th overall to 23rd during the course of the day, entertaining the Welsh fans who lined the rallies special stages.
SS10: 9th (+8.2s)
SS11: 9th (14.8s)
SS12: 9th (+5.9s)
SS13: 10th (+4.6s)
SS14: 9th (+2.2s)
SS15: 5th (+3.7s)
SS16: 8th (+7.5s)
SS17: 9th (+6.9s)
SS18: 9th (+9.4s)
Elfyn Evans (24th) said:
“It’s been OK today, it’s difficult without something really to fight for as such, but the stages have been great to be honest, real good fun to drive and the atmosphere from the home fans has been great out there. Overall, enjoyable but still frustrating at the same time!
Tomorrow we will have to wait and see what is possible on the Power Stage, we will sit down with the team tonight and work out what we can do and then go from there.”
SUNINEN AND MARKKULA
Teemu Suninen and Mikko Markkula retired overnight as the car had sustained roll cage damage and was unable to be repaired in the allocated time.
1. Sébastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) 2:31.22.5
2. Jari-Matti Latvala / Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +4.4
3. Esapekka Lappi / Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +11.8
4. Craig Breen / Scott Martin (Citroen C3 WRC) +13.5
5. Mads Ostberg / Torstein Erikson (Citroen C3 WRC) +34.1
6. Andreas Mikkelsen / Anders Jaeger (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +36.5
7. Hayden Paddon / Sebastian Marshal (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +45.4
8. Thierry Neuville / Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +55.5
9. Kalle Rovanpeara / Jonne Hultunen (Skoda Fabia R5) +7.30.8
10. Pontus Tidemand / Jonas Andersson (Skoda Fabia R5) +8.33.9
23. Elfyn Evans / Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +21.03.9