The opening test is based in the streets of Strasbourg alongside the European Parliament building. It covers three laps, starting and finishing at the same location. A new 370m section has been added to each lap, which introduces a jump and chicane by the start podium.
How the action unfolded:
Sebastien Ogier has secured the 2013 FIA WRC drivers’ title after Dani Sordo went fastest through tonight’s opening stage of Rallye de France – Alsace.
The 4.55km test through the streets of Strasbourg was always likely to prove decisive because as the nominated Power Stage it offered three bonus points to the winner.
Thierry Neuville, the only man with a chance of catching Ogier’s championship lead, needed all three points to stay in the fight. So when his time was confirmed as 0.7sec slower than Sordo’s, Ogier was home and dry, no matter what happens on this or the two rallies that remain this year.
“I’m so happy!” said a delighted Ogier at the finish control. “Before the stage I was a bit confused about whether it would happen, but we’re here and we managed to do it!”
“Eight years we’ve worked for this!” added his co-driver Julien Ingrassia.
The pair climbed onto the roof of their Polo R in celebration, cheered on by crowds of fans and Volkswagen management including rally team boss Jost Capito. Outgoing world champion Sebastien Loeb, who followed Ogier through the stage, was quick to offer his own congratulations.
Citroen DS3 WRC driver Sordo now leads the rally from Neuville, with Ogier third, 0.1sec further back. It was another great performance from Sordo, who won the last all-asphalt round in Germany and who was fastest on this morning’s shakedown.
“I have a really good feeling in the car at the moment,” said the Spaniard. “The roads here are really nice and of course I want to repeat my win. For me this rally is more important than Germany. I want to be in the fight!”
With only the slimmest of chances to stop Ogier, Neuville remained upbeat. “We knew already that we couldn’t really win, so it doesn’t change anything,” he said.
What’s important is that we were quicker here than Jari-Matti Latvala and I hope to get one or two more points this weekend. Can I win? I don’t know, we will try, but we want second the in the championship more, so points are the priority.”
Mikko Hirvonen holds fourth overnight, with Andreas Mikkelsen fifth and Latvala sixth. Sebastien Loeb is seventh, 2.9sec off the lead, the Frenchman admitting that he needs time to get reacquainted with his DSC WRC.
Friday’s action, in the countryside around Strasbourg, begins with the 10.66 kilometre Klevener test at 09:18hrs local time.