Sebestien Ogier was at his sublime best as the double world champion wrapped up his sixth victory of the season at Rallye Deutschland 2015. A Volkswagen 1-2-3 completed by Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen well and truly banished the German team’s much-discussed home soil hoodoo and finally filled the one remaining gap in the ample VW trophy cabinet.
Rallye Deutschland is the first purely asphalt event of the year and signals the start of the 2015 season run-in. The route remains largely unchanged from 2014 and is characterised by two things; wine and war. Leaving the historic town of Trier the 2015 route takes the drivers through the picturesque, winding and narrow roads of the Mosel wine-growing region, whose sprawling vineyards have claimed their fair share of WRC scalps in the past. Once the crews have negotiated those hazards, its full steam ahead to the infamous Panzerplatte military testing ground whose colossal, metal-crunching hinkelstein tank traps strike fear into the heart of many a WRC driver.
From the off, Volkswagen’s aggressive intentions were abundantly clear. Freed from the burden of gravel road-sweeping, Ogier dominated proceedings by scoring seven out of a possible eight stage wins on Friday. It was, in fact, Latvala who led by a tenth of a second after the morning loop but as the afternoon progressed, his French teammate showed him a clean pair of heels and won the four remaining afternoon tests to sit 9.5secs clear overnight. Latvala struggled slightly on the slippery second pass but comfortably retained second ahead of junior teammate Andreas Mikkelsen whose consistent run of third fastest times left him third overall.
Citroën ’s charge was led by Britain’s Kris Meeke. The Ulsterman started well enough, increasing the pressure on Mikkelsen but disaster struck on stage 6 when he slid off into a field. Meeke re-joined the road but by then the game was up; a broken front left suspension strut cost the under-pressure Citroën star 9 minutes as he nursed his faltering DS3 through the rest of the day.
Hyundai’s Dani Sordo looked right at home back on the asphalt and capped his best day in the i20 for months by pipping teammate Thierry Neuville to fourth on the final stage. The advantage shifted from one end of the Hyundai garage to the other four times throughout the day in what was an enthralling inter-team tussle.
Elfyn Evans was the quickest of the Fiesta drivers and comfortably held off fellow M-Sport man Ott Tänak for sixth on Friday. Tänak’s cause was not helped by an impromptu trip into a field early on that cost him 10secs. Asphalt rookie Hayden Paddon and an out of sorts Mads Østberg completed the top nine.
If Friday was a showcase of Ogier’s dogged and unrivalled consistency, grinding out stage win after stage win, then Saturday saw the Frenchman set off the fireworks. VW team boss Jost Capito had made it clear that his sparring pair of Polo drivers would be free to fight for the victory. With nine stages on which to battle it out and only 9 secs separating the duo on Saturday morning, fans looked to be in for an intriguing and mouth-watering game of cat and mouse between the two VW stars. However, Ogier, in particularly uncompromising mood, was far from ready to be drawn into a dog fight and instead proceeded to utterly blitz his Finnish teammate in brilliant and brutal fashion.
After winning a stage a piece early in the morning, Ogier put his foot down to grab the following three fastest times, including the first run around the infamous Panzerplatte tank proving ground. That feat was impressive enough, allowing the VW number one to double his initial lead to 18.5 secs, but the best was yet to come. Ogier returned from midday service with an extra spring in his step and, unfazed by Latvala’s brace of fastest times on the shorter stages 14 and 15, proceeded to produce one of the greatest Panzerplatte performances of all time and surely one of his most brilliant drives ever. Having successfully negotiated the 45.61km minefield in faultless fashion, Latvala was forced to look on helplessly as his highly respectable time was promptly obliterated by an inspired Ogier. The flabbergasted Finn was trounced by over 15secs, leaving him more than 33secs in arrears by Saturday night and probably searching for the kryptonite as a last resort to combat Ogier’s seemingly superhuman abilities.
On a day when the stage wins were locked out by Volkswagen’s leading men, Anreas Mikkelsen continued to head the supporting cast confidently and had cementing third by the end of the day with a series of top four times. Nevertheless, he remained a full 1min13secs behind his senior teammates by the close of play.
Hyundai remained the home team’s closest challengers but the lead i20 pairing of Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo spent the day very much locked in their own personal dual. Having started the day just behind his Spanish colleague, Neuville snuck ahead on stage 9. However, the determined Sordo, an expert on asphalt, retook the position after a strong run through Panzerplatte 1 and reinforced his advantage during the afternoon loop despite niggling gearshift problems. Whilst the lead i20s ended the day separated by 9.5secs in fourth and fifth, Hyundai young gun Hayden Padden continued to find the going tough away from his familiar gravel habitat. A broken turbocharger only complicated matters but the Kiwi pushed on, steering clear of major trouble to consolidate ninth overall.
Elfyn Evans led the M-sport charge in sixth after his Estonian teammate Tänak skidded off on Panzerplatte. The Fiesta pilot conceded over 1min as he fought to get the engine firing again, later pinning the blame on a faulty starter motor. Tänak slumped to eighth behind a resurgent Mads Østberg .
With the hard work done, Ogier could almost taste the champagne on his lips as he embarked on Sunday’s brief quartet of stages. The indomitable Frenchman throttled back, taking no risks on his serene way to the top step of the podium. As Ogier cruised to victory, there was just time for Elfyn Evans to delight watching British rally fans with an impressive blast through Sunday’s morning loop. The young Welshman was top of the pile on stage 18 and then proved his previous win was no fluke by delivering another top three time for M-Sport on the next test. He ended the event in sixth with the additional accolade of being the only non-VW driver to win a stage in Germany. Two places further back came fellow Fiesta pilot Ott Tänak.
The M-Sport duo sandwiched Mads Østberg in seventh. The Norwegian’s constant problems over the weekend were compounded on stage 19 as his DS3, suffering from locked brakes, left the road several times. It was a torrid event in general for Østberg’s Citroën team with colleague Meeke unable to really recover from his mistake on Friday.
Despite ultimately failing to match the heady double success of 2014, Hyundai will nevertheless reflect on this season’s German outing as a job well done. Dani Sordo scooped his best result in almost a year with fourth on his favourite surface, a position he rubber-stamped thanks to a trio of top three times on Sunday morning. Teammate Thierry Neuville scrapped hard to overhaul his i20 partner all weekend but was eventually ordered to hold position in fifth with precious championship points at stake.
However, the real celebrations in Germany were an all Volkswagen affair. Latvala and Mikkelsen secured their own podium places on Sunday to cap an incredible turnaround from the nadir of 12 months ago when not a single Polo made the top 10. With the last blank gap on the WRC world map coloured in Volkswagen blue, Jost Capito’s outfit has finally shaken the German monkey from its back.
For Ogier, a third successive drivers’ world championship looms large. Beat Latvala next time out at Rally Australia and the title will again be his in double quick time. As if that wasn’t enough inspiration, one more career victory would see the VW number one eclipse the great Marcus Grönholm and climb to second in the all-time list of WRC rally winners. Will we witness yet another watershed moment in the career of Sebatien Ogier when the action moves Down Under? All will be revealed at Rally Australia 2015 which runs from 10th – 13th September.
Final Results: Round 9 – Rallye Deutschland
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