This stage is shorter than last year with the removal of a 2.4km section midway through. It starts in Drachenbronn and follows a wide and fast road to Cleebourg, via some long corners. The road narrows as it enters a vineyard, but becomes faster as it approaches another village before climbing to a plateau and the finish.
How the action unfolded:
Sebastien Loeb rolled out of Rallye de France - Alsace just a kilometre into this morning’s opening stage as fellow countryman Sebastien Ogier (pictured) blitzed his rivals in treacherous rain-soaked conditions to move into the lead.
Loeb, competing in his final WRC rally in his home region, was one of four drivers starting the final leg covered by just 5.0sec. However, the nine-time world champion’s career ended with his Citroen DS3 on its roof in a ditch.
Neither Loeb nor co-driver Daniel Elena were injured in the crash, which marked their first retirement since Rally Italia Sardegna in October 2012 with broken steering after striking rocks on Friday’s opening test.
Thierry Neuville started the test immediately behind Loeb and saw the Frenchman’s car. “Conditions were terrible. He went off the road at a very fast right bend and went deep into a ditch. I just saw the wheels of the car, which was upside down,” he said.
Ogier pumped his fists when he saw his time at the finish, 8.4sec quicker than Dani Sordo and 14.5sec clear of team-mate and overnight leader Jari-Matti Latvala. It propelled him into the lead, 7.3sec ahead of Sordo and 13.0sec up on Latvala.
“It’s a great time. We push, and no mistakes. We had a few moments but the weather information from our gravel crew was nice,” said the Volkswagen Polo R driver.
Sordo highlighted how tricky the test had been. “It’s very easy to make a mistake here. I tried to drive well. There was a lot of standing water at the end so I think it will be cleaning for the others,” he said.
Latvala admitted Loeb’s accident and his team-mate’s pace had forced him to re-evaluate his victory charge.
“When I heard Loeb was off the road I backed off. It might be too difficult for me to fight for victory here. We need to be clever because manufacturers’ points are the key elements now that Loeb is out. The stage started OK but it was difficult with the cuts. There was a lot of mud on the road and it was difficult to find grip” said the Finn.
Mikko Hirvonen and Andreas Mikkelsen also went off the road. Mikkelsen slid his Polo R into a field, while Hirvonen overshot a tight left bend and his DS3 skated into the vines.
“I didn’t hit anything. I just went into the vines and lost many seconds getting back on the road,” explained Hirvonen, who slipped to seventh behind Mads Ostberg in the standings.
Martin Prokop’s Ford Fiesta RS collected water into the footwell and the Czech driver’s visibility was hindered by a fogged up windscreen as a result.