Fighting to defend their FIA World Rally Championships, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia have taken the advantage through a thrilling opening day of competition at Kennards Hire Rally Australia.
Going into the final round just three points ahead of Thierry Neuville, Ogier had to keep his rival in sight and was doing just that when Neuville dropped 40 seconds through the second pass of Sherwood (SS6) – giving the M-Sport man the upper hand.
Aided by his two team mates, Ogier gained a further two places when Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen strategically dropped behind their comrade, and goes into the second day of competition three places and 33.7 seconds ahead of rival Neuville.
The championship pendulum may be swinging in Ogier’s favour at the moment, but the team knows that this fight is far from over and will continue to push hard through the weekend.
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“It feels strange to say that it’s been a good day when we’re sitting in seventh, eighth and ninth, but we’re in a good position when it comes to the driver and co-driver championships which are our main objectives this weekend.
“Sébastien and Julien had a tough day opening the road, but they didn’t let the frustration distract them from the main objective. They pushed hard, didn’t put a foot wrong, and when Thierry [Neuville] lost time they were able to take the advantage.
“We were then able to strengthen that advantage by strategically moving Elfyn and Teemu behind – which shows just how much of a team sport this can be come the end of the season.
“Both our young drivers have driven well today, and it was great to see their support. We’re all competitors and it’s never easy to concede a position, but everyone has worked together to give Sébastien and Julien the best possible chance going into the weekend.
“A second drivers’ title is the goal, but this fight is far from over and a lot can still happen over the next two days!”
OGIER AND INGRASSIA: SEVENTH AFTER EIGHT STAGES
Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia had their work cut out through the opening day of competition at Rally Australia – leading the championship and therefore tasked with the arduous job of sweeping a clean line through some of the loosest gravel of the year.
But the defending World Champions have been here before and overcame the frustration with a note perfect performance. Pushing hard, the French pairing gave it everything and didn’t put a foot wrong – crucially ending the day ahead of their main championship rival.
SS1: 8th (+2.6)
SS2: 11th (+10.7)
SS3: 10th (+17.9)
SS4: 4th (+1.0)
SS5: 7th (+1.6)
SS6: 7th (+14.2)
SS8: 2nd (+0.2)
Sébastien Ogier (7th) said:
“Every stage has been like a Power Stage for us today. Opening the road is really tough here and we had to push really hard through every stage. It’s always a little frustrating when you’re not in a position to fight for the top results, but that’s the way it is.
“Unlike our rivals, we didn’t make any mistakes and we’re in a good position for the championship which is the main objective this weekend. A big thanks to my team mates also for their help this afternoon which should make our road position better for tomorrow.”
EVANS AND BARRITT: EIGHTH AFTER EIGHT STAGES
Elfyn Evans and Daniel Barritt delivered a solid drive through the first day of competition at Rally Australia. In a tight fight for the top positions, the Brits were rarely more than a handful of seconds adrift of the fastest stage times, and ended the penultimate gravel stage less than 20 seconds adrift of the lead.
Heading into the final loose-surface test of the day, Evans and Barritt proved once again why they should be dubbed team mates of the year – dropping behind Ogier and Ingrassia to give the Frenchmen the best possible road position as the title fight continues into the weekend.
SS1: 7th (+2.5)
SS2: 8th (+4.3)
SS3: 7th (+11.6)
SS4: 10th (+2.8)
SS5: 9th (+3.6)
SS6: 8th (+26.9)
SS7: 4th (+1.9)
SS8: 6th (+1.6)
Elfyn Evans (8th) said:
“We focused on delivering a clean and tidy drive through today’s stages. The competition was really close and I think we did a pretty good job – not far from the lead before the last gravel stage of the day.
“But this is a team sport as well as an individual one and we had to play our part to give Seb the best possible position going into the weekend. We’re all competitors and we all want to compete, but we’re also here to do a job for the team and we have to respect that.”
SUNINEN AND MARKKULA: NINTH AFTER EIGHT STAGES
Teemu Suninen and Mikko Markkula have quickly got to grips with Rally Australia. Contesting the event for the first time this weekend, the pairing are under strict instruction to learn the stages and gain as much experience as possible, but that didn’t stop them showcasing their speed.
Building his knowledge and confidence with every kilometre, Suninen continues to prove his potential and set the second fastest time through the second pass of Coldwater (SS5) – just 0.1 seconds adrift of the stage win.
The young Finn was also the second fastest man through the following speed test (SS6) – continuing to demonstrate his speed before playing the team game and slowing to fall behind Ogier in the overall standings.
SS1: 10th (+2.8)
SS2: 6th (+2.2)
SS3: 8th (+12.2)
SS4: 8th (+2.0)
SS5: 2nd (+0.1)
SS6: 9th (+32.2)
SS7: 8th (+3.1)
SS8: 10th (+2.6)
Teemu Suninen (9th) said:
“I think we’ve had a good day. The pace has been good and we were able to improve a lot over the second pass – just 0.1 seconds away from a stage win on the middle one this afternoon [SS5]. On the next stage we had to give the position to Seb, but that’s part of the game – he’s fighting for the championship and we need to play our part to help him.”
1. Mads Østberg / Torstein Eriksen (Citroen C3 WRC) 53:37.4
2. Craig Breen / Scott Martin (Citroen C3 WRC) +6.8
3. Jari-Matti Latvala / Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +8.7
4. Hayden Paddon / Sebastian Marshall (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +12.5
5. Ott Tänak / Martin Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +16.9
6. Esapekka Lappi / Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +28.3
7. Sébastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +38.2
8. Elfyn Evans / Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +45.2
9. Teemu Suninen / Mikko Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) +47.2
10. Thierry Neuville / Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1:11.9