There were dust storms, flames and home heartbreak on day 3 of Rally Spain 2013, but in the end one man emerged victorious from the chaos. Some people are champions for a reason, and sure enough Sébastien Ogier demonstrated every inch of his title winning credentials after staging a stunning recovery to take victory, and with it the 2013 constructors title for Volkswagen, on the Costa Daurada. Beginning the day in fourth, 45 seconds behind leading duo Dani Sordo and Jari-Matti Latvala, the Frenchman immediately set about taking advantage of his more favourable road position and by the end of the morning loop had devoured the deficit, leaving the front pair with just a 15 second cushion.
Latvala, forced to assume road sweeping duties thanks to Sordo’s tactical time loss on day 2, was first to tackle Sunday’s gravel tests. However, the Fin fared better than expected, with the anticipated hazardously slippery surface failing to materialise. The going was by no means easy for the overnight leader, but nevertheless he performed admirably to pull away from the pursuing Sordo. Ironically, it was the Spaniard who suffered worst of all from the change of surface, losing heaps of time in the immense dust clouds kicked up by Latvala’s Polo R, making a mockery of yesterday’s delicately laid master plan. However, whilst he and Latvala traded blows, a bigger threat was looming rapidly in to view from behind. Having made short work of Neuville’s Fiesta, to jump to third by stage 11, Ogier continued his astonishing charge in the afternoon, taking full advantage of the smoother racing line cleared by the earlier runners.
The inevitable dust issue on Sunday’s gravel stages has been a hot topic in Cataluña all weekend. Ever since organisers controversially refused to allow the overnight leader preference of road position on day 3 it has been clear that conditions on Sunday morning would play a big part in deciding the outcome of the rally. Yet few anticipated just how much the leader board would be turned on it’s head on the final day.
More drama was in store for the afternoon. First Neuville hit trouble when he picked up a puncture on stage 11, relegating him two places to fifth and out of contention for the win. Then, the worst fears of the home fans were realised. Desperately holding on to the coat tails of an increasingly distant Latvala, whilst simultaneously trying to keep the Ogier juggernaut at bay, Dani Sordo was a man under pressure by the afternoon loop. Having finally been reeled in by Ogier on the previous test, he threw caution to wind on stage 14, but went off only minutes in and ground to a halt soon after with critical suspension damage. After looking so well placed on Saturday evening, there was to be no fairy tale win, or even a place on the podium, for the Spaniard in front of his home crowd.
The penultimate stage proved to be the decider. Latvala came through seemingly unscathed but at the finish flames were clearly visibly licking from under the bonnet of his Polo R. The fire was soon extinguished but the problem clearly affected his run as he finally succumbed to Ogier with just one stage remaining. With the car in no fit shape to challenge for the lead again, the Fin was relieved just to make it over the finish line.
Completing the podium line up was Citroën’s Mikko Hirvonen, driving tidily if unspectacularly throughout to finish 40.8 seconds further back. Despite benefiting from his teammate’s misfortune to gain a place at the death, the ex-Ford man expressed his regret that Sordo couldn’t be on the podium to celebrate at his home event. The concern for his team, however, will be that the Fin has been woefully out of form of late and posted only two top three times all weekend.
Neuville could only muster fourth and looked uncomfortable with his Fiesta’s set-up for much of the rally. A puncture on Sunday afternoon put pay to any hopes of a late charge to the front; however he did win 3 bonus points on the power stage, keeping him 14 points ahead of Latvala in the quest for the championship runners-up spot. Teammate Evgeny Novikov performed consistently enough to secure fifth but lost track of Hirvonen’s DS3 on Sunday after matching the Fin through the earlier stages. Completing the M-Sport trio was Mads Ostberg. In front of the fanatical Norwegian support he enjoyed a much happier third day, taking second on stages 12, 14 and 15, but his earlier struggles left him well adrift of the lead group in seventh. It was another bad day at the office for Andreas Mikkelson though. Restarting after Saturday morning’s retirement, he flew to victory on the opening two stages, only to crash out again on the penultimate test. Newcomer Haydon Paddon managed an admirable eighth in his maiden WRC outing.
Whilst the top WRC honours may have already been sorted, the WRC 2 crown was still up for grabs in Spain. Requiring only second place to clinch the title, Robert Kobica went one better, blitzing all before him to ascend to the WRC 2 throne in thrilling style. Utterly dominant on the Costa Daurada, the Pole bulldozed his way to victory number five of the season by a colossal 5 minute 15 second margin. There was plenty of Polish support to great the new champion on the podium in Salou and they can now look forward to seeing their hero get behind the wheel of a fully-fledged Citroën DS3 WRC for Rally Wales GB.
But there was no doubting the man of the moment in Spain. Saturday’s setback may have proved a blessing in disguise in terms of road position but regardless of that it was still a magnificent comeback from Ogier, who is beginning to assume his own Loeb-like aura of invincibility. Ominous indeed for the rest of the field!