Three-way battle in Portugal, Ogier among early leaders

Ogier/Ingrassia within striking distance

By Franck Drui

4 April 2014 - 22:03
Three-way battle in Portugal, Ogier

Fluctuating conditions at the toughest rally of the year, and a three-way battle for the lead – Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (F/F) ended day one of the Rally Portugal with their Polo R WRC within touching distance of the leaders. As such, the defending champions once again successfully overcame the disadvantage of being first onto the route in particularly difficult conditions – a questionable honour awarded to the World Championship leader coming into each event. The first 114.15 kilometres of the fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) were a mixture of dry sections, damp conditions and mud. Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia ended the exciting first third of the rally just 6.5 seconds off the lead in third place – behind Mikko Hirvonen and Ott Tänak (both M-Sport Ford) and in front of Mads Østberg (Citroën). Dani Sordo (Hyundai) is fifth.

Andreas Mikkelsen/Mikko Markkula (N/FIN) are ninth overall in their Polo R WRC going into day two. For team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN), however, the opening day of the Rally Portugal came to a premature end. Running second at the time, and within touching distance of the leaders, the duo hit a hole and rolled their car on the fifth special stage “Silves”. Driver and co-driver were unhurt. The Volkswagen team will endeavour to repair the number 2 Polo R WRC, in order to allow the Finnish pair to re-join the action on Saturday under Rally2 regulations.

Sébastien Ogier, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #1

“The conditions were not easy – particularly in the morning. The level of grip on offer changed constantly. At times it would be extremely muddy and slippery, then in places there was good grip. We took a cautious approach: as first out you cannot follow the tracks of the cars in front. The special stages had dried out considerably by the second run. However, hard tyres were still not the ideal choice. Despite this, Julien and I are very happy to be up there with the front-runners. Generally speaking, today was an exciting day for the fans, as it has been a long time since we have had so many drivers so tightly bunched. Jari-Matti’s retirement is obviously a shame for the team, but the good news is that they are both ok.”

Jari-Matti Latvala, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #2

“It is obviously a real shame that I was unable to convert our good performance here into a top result. The fourth stage in particular was very good, and we were second overall. Because it had rained an awful lot over the past few days, the road conditions were difficult to judge – we opted for a cross-over of hard and soft tyres. I had more understeer than expected in a left-hander and had to take a wide line. When I then got back on track, I hit a deep hole on the right-hand side, which threw the car into the air. We were on two wheels for a moment, before hitting a bank and rolling. It is obviously disappointing, but it is not the end. We must put this kind of set-back behind us and concentrate on what lies ahead.”

Andreas Mikkelsen, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #9

“I have had better days of rallying since joining Volkswagen. We decided before the rally to write new pace notes. Unfortunately, however, it rained so heavily during the ‘Recce’ that we could hardly see anything, which is why the pace notes are not as detailed as we would like. On top of that, the special stages fluctuated between dry, damp and muddy today. The unpredictable road conditions, together with the fact that I did not have 100 per cent confidence in the pace notes, made me very cautious. The result here in Portugal is that we dropped an enormous amount of time. However, I did not want to take too many risks after my two mistakes in Mexico.”

Jost Capito, Volkswagen Motorsport Director

“The first day of the Rally Portugal clearly showed just how difficult it is to be successful against such strong opposition in the World Rally Championship. Sébastien Ogier fought to the best of his abilities to overcome the disadvantage that comes with opening the route as World Championship leader. He was involved in some fantastic battles for the lead – including with his team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala. Jari-Matti had just about moved ahead of Séb when a slight mistake cost him. However, we will try to put his Polo R WRC back together for tomorrow, in order to score as many points as possible in the Manufacturers’ Championship.”



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