The Frenchman secured a maiden win for Volkswagen’s new Polo R World Rally Car on only the German manufacturers second event, three weeks after finishing runner-up on Rallye Monte-Carlo.
Ogier, 29, dominated the snow and ice event after snatching the lead from nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb on Friday morning. He ended the rally with a flourish, going fastest through the final Power Stage to bag three extra drivers’ championship points and beat Loeb’s Citroen DS3 by a margin of 41.8sec.
Today’s win was the eighth at World Championship level for Ogier and his co-driver Julien Ingrassia and moves the pair into the lead of the 2013 FIA drivers’ championship.
After kissing his car at the end of the final stage, a jubilant Ogier was quick to pay tribute to his team. “I must thank them because they have given me a perfect car all weekend. I’ve never had a car like that. Unbelievable,” he said.
“The win here was amazing but also a big surprise. We have spent so much time and effort with the team in preparation - all of last year - but we never expected to have this performance so soon.”
“It couldn’t be better. This morning Sebastien was putting a lot of pressure on. He was flying into the stages. We tried to follow him without maximum risk but we had to push because he was so fast. To win like that is amazing,” he added.
Loeb made it a French one-two but was left ruing a poor result on the pre-rally Qualifying Stage that determined the early running order. “We lost a lot because of that I think,” said Loeb. “We didn’t get a good road position, then we changed the car set-up to try and improve things but that led to two mistakes on the first day and the loss of about 30-seconds. Okay, Sebastien Ogier didn’t make any mistakes. He has done the perfect rally. There was nothing more I could do.”
Mads Ostberg equalled his 2012 Sweden result with third, 42.7sec behind Loeb. The Norwegian’s rally looked to be over on Friday morning when the fluid in his Fiesta’s cooling system drained into the snow. But the 25-year-old survived the scare and went on to beat Latvala in a tense battle for third.
“I understood quite early that a win wasn’t going to be possible, and since then it’s been a big fight for third,” he said. “It’s been a very up and down rally but I’m pleased to have won the fight with Jari-Matti. It’s a great feeling.”
After crashing out of Rallye Monte-Carlo, Latvala scored his first points of the year for fourth, a slender 6.1sec adrift of Ostberg. A two-time winner of Rally Sweden, Latvala endured a difficult event as he struggled to get comfortable with the handling of his Polo R.
“A disappointing event for sure,” he acknowledged. “My driving hasn’t been so great and I have been circling round and round trying to get the right set-up. I haven’t found it yet. But the main thing is to get the points for the team and myself and to work on improvement for Mexico.”
Fifth place went to Ford Fiesta RS driver Thierry Neuville, who also crashed out on Rallye Monte-Carlo. The Belgian was 3min 35.8sec behind Latvala but said the result was a confidence boost. “Before the rally I honestly didn’t think this was possible,” he said. “We had a clean run through, we learned a lot and to finish fifth is amazing. I’m so happy after what happened in Monte-Carlo. Now we can just look forward and I’m already keen to get to Mexico.”
Fellow Fiesta RS driver Juho Hanninen was sixth, 36.7sec behind Neuville. “Of course I’m happy to get the mileage and to have got through the rally, but I’m disappointed by how far from the drivers ahead of me I have been,” said the Finn. “It was not what I expected and hoped for. I feel there is a lot of potential left in the car that I couldn’t use. I hope to be able to do that next time.”
Czech driver Martin Prokop was seventh in another Fiesta RS, matching his finish on the opening round in Monte-Carlo. “The weekend was very good for us. We learned a lot about driving on the snow and I think I can use this driving style in the future on gravel because I’ve completely changed my driving style and I hope that will be useful on the next event,” said Prokop.
Henning Solberg survived a 540-degree mid-air spin on the final stage to land his Fiesta in eighth. The Norwegian assured his fans that he would return on a WRC round this year.
Evgeny Novikov was fifth until he rolled his Fiesta RS on SS20 and dropped to ninth. “Not so disappointing to be honest,” the Russian shrugged. “The main thing is that we drove the whole rally, showed a good speed and learned a lot. We changed the pace notes a bit and I think we will be able to fight for a good result next year when we will be more confident and much quicker.”
Tenth overall was Saudi driver Yazeed Al Rajhi, the winner of the WRC 2 category in a Ford Fiesta RRC.