Sebastien Ogier takes a massive 50-point lead into the second half of the FIA World Rally Championship season after a resounding win at LOTOS 71st Rally Poland.
The ultra-fast gravel event was largely an unknown quantity for the teams, having been missing from the WRC calendar for five years. But the reigning world championship didn’t let any hesitancy creep into his performance.
He was fastest on 10 of the 22 stages that were driven, including the rally-ending Power Stage where three bonus championship points were up for grabs. His winning margin of 1m 07s was just reward for his dominant performance and he claimed the 21st victory of his career.
"I think it's the perfect weekend for me,” the VW Motorsport driver said. “I have got a victory and a good step for the championship. I saw on the first full day I had a disadvantage by opening the road, but if I could maintain the same rhythm after that I knew I would be okay.”
Second place was filled by Ogier’s team-mate, Andreas Mikkelsen. The 25-year-old Norwegian was extremely fast during the opening exchanges but his challenge faltered on the second day when he spun and lost the brakes on his Polo R WRC. Mikkelsen soon realised there was no opportunity to safely challenge for the lead and he focused on holding station for the remaining stages.
Hyundai’s promising first season in the WRC returned another podium finish for the i20 WRC with Thierry Neuville behind the wheel. The Belgian’s only drama on his way to third place was when his car’s handbrake locked on in SS9 and he lost 32.2s.
The fight for the remaining places on the leaderboard were significantly affected by the drama that unfolded on the 14th stage of the rally, the 35.17km run through ‘Goldap 1’.
M-Sport’s Elfyn Evans and Citroen’s Mads Ostberg both retired after clipping a big rock that was lurking in the Polish undergrowth. Evans damaged his Ford Fiesta’s left-front suspension, while Ostberg damaged the roll cage of his DS3 WRC when it rolled.
VW’s Jari-Matti Latvala hit the same rock and also sustained serious suspension damage. However, he managed to continue, albeit at a reduced speed. Others to suffer in SS14 were Kris Meeke, Henning Solberg and local crowd favourite Robert Kubica who all lost valuable time after picking up punctures.
Once the dust settled, the leaderboard started to take a meaningful shape as the crews headed towards the finish.
M-Sport’s Mikko Hirvonen spent most of the time he wasn’t in his Ford Fiesta amending his pace notes to make them faster. It was a strategy that paid off because it allowed him to finish fourth, just 0.7s ahead of the recovering Latvala.
Sixth place went to Hyundai’s Juho Hanninen who had a 1m 38s lead over Meeke’s Citroen at the finish line, while New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon capped another strong performance in his i20 WRC to claim eighth.
Privateers Henning Solberg and Martin Prokop rounded out the top-ten places but both men were some distance off Ogier’s winning pace that equated to 304.21km of competitive driving at an average speed of 118.48kmh.