WRC Rally de Espana: Ogier retains title with Spanish win

Volkswagen’s Sebastien Ogier has retained his WRC Drivers’ title after winning Rally de Espana.
Ogier came into the weekend with a 27 point lead in the Drivers’ Championship and only needed to score one more point than team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala to wrap it up, but in the end he did it in style by claiming the victory, his seventh of the season.
Sebastien Ogier
Sebastien Ogier

“I am so happy,” said Ogier at the finish. “It has been a fantastic weekend. It was tough, I was pushing so hard on day one and then it was a long two days on tarmac where I had to watch Jari-Matti flying. I had to be clever and watch him all the time.

“The car has been fantastic all weekend. Big thanks to Volkswagen for giving me such fantastic car.”

“This was the target at the beginning of the season [to retain my crown]. It is everything I wanted,” he added.

Ogier had expected to lose time running first on the road on Friday. However, in the end his position turned out to be advantageous as his rivals behind were slowed by hanging dust and poor visibility. It allowed the Frenchman to head into the mid-day service on top, 8.4 seconds up on Thierry Neuville.

Ogier then extended his lead in the afternoon, with Neuville slipping back when he made a mistake in SS7 and lost over 2 minutes after having to stop and change a tyre.

Going into day two, with the action switching to asphalt, Ogier had a 36.6 second cushion and that meant he could pace himself through Saturday’s six stages, before cruising to glory on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Latvala had to settle for the runners-up spot, and while he pushed hard on Saturday and Sunday, winning eight of the ten stages, his struggles on Friday left him too far back. He eventually finished 11.3 seconds off Ogier.

“I was really pushing hard,” said Latvala after winning the Power Stage. “I made one small mistake near the beginning [of SS17]. Then I thought at the end if this isn’t enough – nothing is enough.”

“Next year I will be 30. I need to be on the level next year.”

Mikko Hirvonen took third, a morale boosting result for M-Sport and the Finn, who was last on the podium in Portugal when he finished second.

“It feels good,” said Hirvonen. “It has been a long time since we made it on the podium. It was a good race and a good result – it is great for the whole team and I am very happy. It is the perfect moment to show a good result.”

Citroen’s Mads Ostberg was next up, 30 seconds or so further adrift in fourth. Like Hirvonen, it was an important result for the Norwegian given the second half of the season has been so challenging for him.

Local star Dani Sordo rounded out the top five on his sixth and final outing of the year with the Hyundai i20 WRC.

Further back, Neuville re-took sixth at the end when Andreas Mikkelsen made a mistake and checked into the SS17 time control a minute late. That landed the Norwegian with a 10 second penalty and dropped him back to P7, 1.9 seconds adrift.

Mikkelsen, who led after the short Barcelona super special on Thursday evening, but who dropped back after picking up punctures in SS4 and SS11, had been 12.1 seconds behind Neuville on Saturday night. However he moved in front in penultimate test, before the late TC error.

Ford privateer Martin Prokop was eighth, despite technical problems on Saturday afternoon – which cost him over 3 minutes. He also went off and hit a barrier in SS15 on Sunday, but survived to claim his ninth points’ result of the year.

Hayden Paddon and WRC2 winner Nasser Al-Attiyah completed the points’ scorers, with the former winning his first ever WRC stage on Friday and running as high as third, until he lost over 5 minutes with two punctures in SS4.

Al-Attiyah led the WRC class for most of the event, eventually finishing 35 seconds up on Julien Maurin, his closest class rival. Robert Barrable was third in WRC2, albeit around 4 minutes further back.

Of the rest, Yuriy Protasov took eleventh, with Ken Block slipping from tenth to twelfth in the final test after he had a puncture.

Elfyn Evans, Robert Kubica and Kris Meeke came in 14th, 17th and 19st respectively, all finishing under Rally 2.

Meeke was the first major casualty on Friday, when he had to stop after suffering a double puncture in SS3. He only had one spare tyre onboard so could go no further.

Evans then joined his fellow countryman on the sidelines when he went out on the repeat loop on Friday, going off the road in SS6 and damaging the radiator on his Fiesta RS WRC.

Kubica ended day one in sixth, but had to limp through Saturday’s opening loop when a rear driveshaft broke before the first stage of the day. The former F1 ace then took a wheel off in SS11 and had to call it a day.

The WRC now heads to Wales next month for the season finale, which runs from November 14-16.