Sébstien Ogier has joined the ranks of a very exclusive club of WRC legends by becoming only the eighth man in history to be crowned multiple world champion. The French master, who carried a sizable 27 point lead in the penultimate event of the season in Spain, wrapped up his second consecutive title in style with a fittingly scintillating display on the streets and tracks of the Costa Daurada. He beat teammate Jari-Matti Latvala by 11.3secs.
In a season spent largely rewriting whole new volumes of record books, Volkswagen had yet more to celebrate in Spain by adding Ogier’s drivers’ title to the constructors’ championship they secured in Australia. Jari-Matti Latvala, the only man capable of wrenching the championship from the Frenchman’s grasp before Spain, left nothing in reserve in his ultimately futile pursuit but did do enough to secure second on the podium and another one-two finish for the German outfit.
Aside from the obvious elation in the VW camp, there was also a long-awaited positive result for M-Sport’s Mikko Hirvonen, who finally ended his six month exile from the podium by clinching third place in the Fiesta RS.
It was particularly apt that such a milestone victory for Ogier came on such a landmark event, as Rally de España celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. The southern Catalonian holiday town of Salou served once again as basecamp for the teams and much of the action unfolded in the unspoilt hills of the Tarragona region. As the only mixed event of the year, the teams and drivers were faced with the very unique rallycross-style challenge of taking on a combination of both gravel and asphalt stages in the space of three days. Mechanics were sure to have their work cut out completely converting the cars from gravel to asphalt spec on Friday evening, not to mention the quick adaption in driving style required of those behind the wheel.
For the two men still mathematically in the hunt for the title, the tale of a gravel-laden day one took on two opposing storylines. Ogier, first in the running order and benefiting from a clear road ahead, posted some strong times, however those behind him, including Latvala, did not have such a clear sight of the challenge in hand. Clouds of dust kicked up by the earlier runners and the intense glare of the low sun combined to reduce to visibly to virtually nil in some sections. A lack of wind in the valley-based stages 1 to 3 did nothing to improve matters and as the dust settled on the morning loop, the championship leader was literally and metaphorically out of sight of his Finnish colleague who lingered in seventh for much of the day. A late rally on the final stage, in which Hyundai pilot Thierry Neuville went off due to the dust and lost over 2mins changing a puncture, catapulted Latvala back to second. However he still trailed Ogier by a considerable 36.6secs after Friday’s opening leg.
The British challenge was very much reduced to dust within a few stages on day one. First Citroën’s Kris Meeke slid wide on stage 3. Two punctured tyres and only one spare in the boot spelled curtains for the Ulsterman who retired soon after. Then, a few tests later, M-Sport’s Elfyn Evans planted his Fiesta RS in to the undergrowth for the third time. On this occasion, a broken cooling system meant there was no coming back from the Welshman who will hope for rather better luck in front of his home fans next month. Their teammates were therefore left to shoulder the responsibility for their respective teams and both Mads Østberg and Mikko Hirvonen performed admirably. They held third and fifth respectively at nightfall and sandwiched the Polo R of Andreas Mikkelsen. There was also some positive news for a bright young talent in the Hyundai ranks. Hayden Paddon clocked up a real milestone by scoring his first ever stage win on stage 3, the first time a New Zealander has done so since 1999.
With the cars prepped for the tarmac trials of day two, Latvala wasted little time putting right the wrongs of Friday and sped to four stages wins with an ice-cold determination in the 35° heat. He faced little challenge for supremacy on the stages from Robert Kubica in the M-Sport Fiesta RS. The former F1 man was unlikely to get much closer to his track racing roots this season than on Saturday’s asphalt road stages, however, the pole didn’t get the chance to fully stretch his legs as he broke a differential whilst warming his tyres before stage 9. He later ripped a wheel from the car on the 50km marathon stage 11 leaving the Fiesta simply too battered to continue.
Mikkelsen was also unable to steer clear of dramas. The day began badly for him when he conceded a position to Hirvonen early on but the real damage was done on stage 11 when a puncture cost him 2min15secs, dropping him all the way down to seventh. Hirvonen held on to third for the day with a string of solid times and was able to fend of Østberg’s DS3 which sat fourth by the evening.
Out in front, Ogier seemed unfazed by his teammate’s sudden hot-streak and the VW number one offset the Finns rapid times well with several top three finishes. By the end of the day his lead may have diminished to 27secs but his unquestionable control over proceedings certainly had not.
Sunday passed without disaster for any of the front runners. Only Mikkelsen hit problems, arriving late for the start of stage 17 which saw him lumped with a 10sec penalty to cap a miserable rally for the Norwegian. Mikko Hirvonen consolidated third by holding off the attacks of Mads Østberg. The Citroën man ended up looking over his own shoulder as home hero Dani Sordo mounted a late challenge in the Hyundai i20 but eventually fell 8.9secs short. The second i20 of Neuville followed him in sixth.
At the business end of the leader board, the gap between first and second continued to reduce throughout Friday’s stages. However, Latvala was simply unable to deliver the killer-blow that he badly required and by the time he reached the last stage still 14secs in arrears, only divine intervention could have denied Ogier his date with destiny. Even Latvala’s three point haul on the power stage, his eighth fastest time of the rally, was not enough to postpone the inevitable, and Ogier duly cruised home to scoop a double helping of silverware on the Costa Daurada. A masterful combination of first day domination and brilliant time management means the French ace leaves here as not only king of Spain but also king of the world for 2014. The question is; who can possibly dethrone him in 2015?
The WRC moves on to its final stop in Britain for Wales Rally GB which runs from the 13th-16th November.
Final Results: Round 12 – Rally Spain
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