We review the major players from last weekend’s Rallye de France-Alsace in the first of a two-part analysis.
Mads Østberg (Citroen DS3)
Scored his first asphalt win in the penultimate test, but then lost a final stage duel with Elfyn Evans for sixth after a pace note slip. Mads (above) was right in the scrap for fourth on the opening day but a leaking rear differential brought a 70sec penalty as he worked on the DS3 amid fears it wouldn’t last the second leg. Seventh wasn’t a great outcome, but could have been fourth without the penalty.
Elfyn Evans (Ford Fiesta RS)
Full marks for driving and determination. The Welshman was flying in fourth until a dodgy alternator (something of an Achilles’ heel on the Fiesta this year) stopped him just outside Friday’s mid-leg service. Evans and co-driver Dan Barritt summoned superhuman strength to push it into the time control, but a 1min 40sec penalty plunged them down the order. Recovered superbly to snatch sixth in the final stage.
Thierry Neuville (Hyundai i20)
A broken turbo (a problem Hyundai hasn’t previously encountered) on the first morning ended his hopes. Team did a great job to replace it without penalty, but the Belgian was uncomfortable with the handling on Michelin’s new range of tyres. Much tinkering finally found a solution, but eighth was as good as it got after the i20 lost grunt through the Power Stage.
Robert Kubica (Ford Fiesta RS)
That the Pole was fast, there was no doubt. Made his way from seventh to fourth after passing Dani Sordo, no asphalt slouch, on the final morning. But a big spin and a lurid sixth gear moment when he found gravel in the penultimate test were pre-cursors to a final stage roll. With 11sec in hand over Sordo, he didn’t need to drive flat out and a career-best result was thrown away.
Bryan Bouffier (Hyundai i20)
Steady weekend for the Frenchman on his home rally. Bouffier wasn’t the only driver to complain about understeer during the opening morning. He resolved that, but then springs that were too hard made the i20 a handful on bumpy sections. Nothing wrong with ninth, but then again it was nothing to shout about either on his final outing for the team this season.
Jari-Matti Latvala (Volkswagen Polo R)
A masterful drive. He led for all but one stage, held off an inspired Andreas Mikkelsen, and controlled the rally from the front to achieve his dream of a first asphalt win. Even when the pressure ramped up on the final day as memories of his Germany disaster came back, Latvala exuded calm. Now a winner on asphalt, gravel and snow, this year’s title is all but out of reach, but next season….
Loeb lessons key for Latvala
France winner learned his asphalt prowess from the master
Latvala breaks asphalt jinx
Finn dominates Rallye de France for first sealed surface success