Sébastien Ogier believes he was one stage away from suffering transmission failure on the first day at Dayinsure Wales Rally GB – an event that would almost certainly have ended his hopes of victory.
The 2016 world champion took an early lead on Friday morning as he chased down his fourth successive victory on the foggy and muddy gravel stages in north Wales.
But his confidence was dealt a blow when the Polo Rs of Volkswagen Motorsport team-mates Andreas Mikkelsen and Jari-Matti Latvala were both struck down with driveshaft problems – on the fourth and seventh stages respectively – that reduced their cars to two-wheel-drive.
Without the luxury of a service halt on the first day, both men dropped a significant amount of time and Ogier feared he would suffer the same fate when he noticed his car’s transmission was making worrying noises.
Luckily for the Frenchman, he managed to complete the first day unscathed and held a 37.7sec lead over Ott Tänak. The transmission issue was addressed by his team at service on Friday night and that cleared the way for him to win the event by a narrow 10.2sec margin on Sunday and clinch the fourth consecutive manufacturers’ world title for Volkswagen.
But he admitted it was a close run thing on the opening leg.
“As the transmission was still running normally for me during the stage it was just a noise,” he told wrc.com. “But the noise was a sign of something pretty bad coming and it was very close to happening when we entered the service.
“One more stage and most probably we would have suffered a transmission failure and lost a lot of time. After Friday I was happy it wouldn’t happen again, but certainly on the first day, I had a lot of stress.”
Volkswagen engineers suspected the cause of the driveshaft problems were related to a new seal that was tested successfully before the penultimate round of the season but didn’t work in the unique conditions that have to be overcome at Rally GB.
Team boss Sven Smeets confirmed an investigation is underway: “The parts are on the way to Hannover. We have an idea but we’re not sure yet. We have to get to the bottom of this before Australia,” he said.