All-Volkswagen duel for the lead at the Rally FranceLatvala leads Mikkelsen – just 8.2 seconds separate leading twoChampion suffers a set-back: Ogier facing fightback at home event
Thrilling duel for the lead, game on in the Drivers’ Championship: Volkswagen duo Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN) leads the Rally France a third of the way into the event. The eleventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) sees the pair currently second in the overall standings embroiled in an exciting battle for the lead with Volkswagen team-mates Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Fløene (N/N). After 114.75 of 303.63 kilometres against the clock, the gap between the old hand and the young pretender is just 8.2 seconds. Latvala and Mikkelsen claimed every one of Friday’s seven stage wins between them – four for Latvala, three for Mikkelsen.
Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (F/F), who could theoretically wrap up the Drivers’ and Co-Drivers’ Championship at their home event with the Polo R WRC, suffered several set-backs on the opening day of the rally. A small leak can sink a great ship: a faulty sensor, which repeatedly interrupted the ignition, resulted in the championship leaders losing over four minutes early on in the day. To make matters worse, the duo was then handed a four-minute penalty after inadvertently stamping a time card too early. As a result, Ogier/Ingrassia face a Herculean task on the remaining eleven special stages, which feature 188.88 kilometres against the clock. Only if they pick up at least six World Championship points more than their rivals Latvala/Anttila in France can they celebrate winning the title in the Drivers’ and Co-Drivers’ Championship with rallies to spare.
When Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila clocked the fastest time on the third special stage of the day, “Pays de Salm”, they celebrated an anniversary for the Polo R WRC: the 300th stage win for the World Rally Car from Wolfsburg. Since Volkswagen joined the World Rally Championship at the Rally Monte Carlo in January 2013, the 315-hp four-wheel drive powerhouse has picked up 304 of a possible 435 stage wins - 156 of 198 in 2014 alone.
Quotes after day one of the Rally France
Sébastien Ogier, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #1“Having savoured the happiest moment of our career here at the Rally France last year, today was a real disappointment. Julien and I wanted to put on a good show this weekend, particularly for the French fans. But we had a problem with a faulty sensor, on the longest special stage of all things, which cost us four minutes. And then came another four minutes on top of that when we stamped our time card incorrectly at a time check. It never rains, but it pours. However, we are a team – we win together and lose together. We now have our sights set on winning the three points towards the World Championship on Sunday’s Power Stage.”
Jari-Matti Latvala, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #2“I could quite happily drive today’s special stages another two or three times – they are just great fun, and I really enjoy them. However, they are still a big challenge. For the most part you have plenty of grip, but there are also slippery sections, on which dirt or worn rubber is on the road. You have to be alert at all times. It looks like I am in another battle for the lead with a team-mate. This time, however, I must keep my eye on the flying Norwegian. Big compliment to Andreas Mikkelsen, who produced a magnificent display. Unfortunately Sébastien Ogier was very unlucky today, meaning he is not my main rival this time. Despite this, I think it will still be exciting for the spectators, as Kris Meeke is also not far behind.”
Andreas Mikkelsen, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #9“Driving the Polo on these beautiful and quick special stages is extremely enjoyable. I am loving every metre and have never felt this comfortable in a car on asphalt before. I would obviously like to be in contention for my first WRC victory come the end of the rally. However, I am not willing to risk everything to achieve that. After all, there is still a long way to go before we reach the finish ramp on Sunday. Top priority is to secure third place in the Drivers’ Championship – and our prospects do not look bad at all right now. All in all, I have had a phenomenal first day at the Rally France, and would have nothing against the clean drive I have had so far continuing.”
Jost Capito, Volkswagen Motorsport Director“A fantastic performance from our three Volkswagen drivers, but unfortunately they did not all have lady luck on their side today. Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen are embroiled in the kind of battle for the lead that we were hoping to see between two Volkswagen drivers, and which we are following with great excitement. However, Sébastien Ogier suffered a bitter set-back in the race for the World Championship title today. Everyone in the Volkswagen team is heartbroken that such a small sensor has prevented him and Julien Ingrassia from attempting to win the Drivers’ and Co-Drivers’ World Championship at their home race in France. Although that seems very unlikely now, I would never write those two off.”