Sunday | 05 Oct 2014

No risks for leading trio in France

The top three drivers at Rallye de France-Alsace were in no mood to take risks during the opening loop of two special stages in Sunday morning’s final leg.

Stage info: SS15/16

SS15: Forêt de la Petite Pierre 1, 12.33km
A new stage which is forest-based throughout. The road is initially narrow, bumpy and pot-holed, but fast and flowing. After passing through a village it turns onto a main road and the final 3km are fast and wide.

SS16: Forêt de Saverne 1, 19.36km
Another new stage. It is mostly on bumpy but fast forest roads, although there is a 2.5km section where the stage emerges from the trees. The final 4km are fast and downhill on wide asphalt.

Both tests were new and with the gaps between the trio relatively large, leader Jari-Matti Latvala, second-placed team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen and Kris Meeke were happy to manage their pace.

“I’m not trying to be aggressive, I’m trying to be clever,” was Latvala’s analysis, while both Mikkelsen and Meeke kept a close watch on each other’s split times and matched their speed accordingly.

Only Mikkelsen posted a top four time in either test and as competitors headed to a regroup in Saverne ahead of a repeat pass, Latvala headed his Volkswagen Polo R colleague by 29.2sec with Meeke a further 25.8sec behind in a Citroen DS3.

Tyre selection was a major talking point. There was no overnight rain but forecasts suggest it is possible later and, with no mid-leg service, drivers’ morning selections must last all day. The choices were varied as crews tried to plan for all conditions.

Robert Kubica’s four soft Michelins were perfect for SS15 and the Pole was quickest to sweep by Dani Sordo into fourth. They were less suitable for SS16 but he was again faster to lead the Spaniard by 8.4sec, despite breaking the front right rim on his Ford Fiesta RS.

Robert Kubica - passed Dani Sordo for fourth

Mikko Hirvonen flirted with a ditch but remains sixth ahead of a tense battle between Mads Østberg and Elfyn Evans for seventh. The Welshman was second in both tests in his Fiesta RS to close to within 0.2sec of the DS3.

Having replaced the rear differential which caused problems yesterday, Østberg wasn’t comfortable. “The spare differential isn’t the same and it feels a different car,” he said.

Sébastien Ogier was fastest in SS16, the Frenchman conducting a high-speed recce for his attack on Power Stage points in the repeat. But he was not happy with his choice of three hard and three soft compound tyres. “If it stays dry, we won’t have the right tyres,” he said.

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