19 February 2015 ~ 0 Comments

Ogier sweeps to spectacular Rally Sweden win; Mikkelsen’s talent proved

Volkswagen Polo R WRC, Rally Sweden: Ogier/Ingrassia

A very tense and exciting Rally Sweden handed Volkswagen Motorsport’s Sébastien Ogier his second FIA 2015 World Rally Championship victory in as many events last weekend. The Frenchman fought off rally leader and team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen in a tense and dramatic final stage of a rally which was full of spectacle and where the battle between the two Volkswagen drivers was down to the wire.

In the end, a possible loss of concentration saw Mikkelsen suffer an off during the final Power Stage, handing Ogier the win. Mikkelsen hit a snow bank with the rear of his Polo, forcing the front into the snow, whereupon the car just dug in further, costing the Norwegian time. The world champion’s win meanwhile made it the 20th time in 27 Power Stages that a Volkswagen driver has collected the maximum haul of three points up for grabs at the crucial final stage.

Fast and furious pace
It all started at Shakedown, with Ogier declared the fastest driver. Mikkelsen set out his stall from the very beginning, setting the fifth quickest time. Finnish team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala was one place behind in sixth. After day one, Mikkelsen and co-driver Ola Fløene topped the overall placings, 19.1 seconds clear of Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville. The Norwegians had undoubtedly set the fast and furious pace among the metre-high snow banks lining the icy tracks.

The second loop saw Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia gain on the front runners, though, with the French pair taking the lead on stage two. However, a rare slip saw them hit a snow bank near on the ‘Torsby’ stage the end of the first day. A deficit of 24.7 seconds behind Mikkelsen saw them down the field, but still within reach of the top-scoring teams.

Latvala and Miikka Anttila also came to grief on the very same stage. Moving into the virtual lead, the Finns left the road and had to call on the event’s spectators for help to get them going once more. Dropping a total of nine minutes, Latvala slipped down the points table, eventually finishing the event in 12th place.

Thrilling battle
By the end of day two, a thrilling battle between the top three drivers had emerged. Just 9.6 seconds separated Neuville, Mikkelsen and Ogier, who had stormed back up the rankings. Volkswagen Motorsport had not issued team orders, so it was every Polo R WRC driver for himself and both Mikkelsen and Ogier put pedal to the metal and pushed hard.

“The rear of the car caught a snow bank and pushed the front into the snow. I kept full throttle to get the front out but it was digging more and more into it. Luckily there were a lot of spectators there so they pushed us onto the road again,” he explained.

One of the closest and tensest fights for the victory in recent WRC history then played out, with Mikkelsen closing the gap to Neuville to just 1.5 seconds. Ogier was 8.1 seconds behind the Hyundai young gun, the three drivers within the equivalent of 380m of each other. Ultimately it was Ogier who drove the hardest and fastest, taking the win, but Mikkelsen no doubt proved his mettle and a victory surely cannot be far away.

‘Unbelievable finale’
Ogier was ecstatic: ‘I’ve done everything I could. This one is a crazy one! We had to push flat out from the beginning to the end. It’s an amazing victory! An unbelievable finale. I am incredibly proud of this win. It is certainly one of my best. The first victory in Sweden two years ago, when I beat Sébastien Loeb, was fantastic, but this was even harder-fought.

‘Julien and I gave everything here in Sweden, from day one right through to the Power Stage. We drove as hard as possible, and it paid off in the end. It was certainly one of the most thrilling and exciting ends to a rally – not just for the fans, but also of my career. I obviously feel sorry for Andreas, who came so close to his first win and was involved in an extremely intense battle with us. However, I am sure that this is not the last time we will be duelling for victory.’

‘Slight mistake’
Mikkelsen was understandably disappointed: ‘ We did our utmost right up until the final metre – but unfortunately lost out in the end. I never dreamed that I might one day be disappointed with a podium finish. After all, I have not won all that much yet in my career. However, I had the chance to clinch my maiden WRC victory and came very close to doing so. But I made a slight mistake, spun, and missed out on this opportunity.

‘That is very bitter and very disappointing at the moment, although we can be proud of what we have achieved over the course of the week. However, I am certain that it is only a matter of time until I get my first win. Having said that, I would have loved to have come out on top in this thrilling three-way battle. We will now do our very best to put ourselves back in contention again in Mexico.’

Volkswagen Motorsport Director Jost Capito reflected on the intense battle. ‘What an exciting rally. I am sure that the World Rally Championship has won a lot of fans around the world this week. Today, the podium positions were genuinely decided in the final metres. Andreas Mikkelsen led until the final split, and came within a whisker of his first victory in the World Championship.

‘He really pushed our double world champion Sébastien Ogier and his friend Thierry Neuville to the limit and can be proud of his performance. His time will come sooner or later, there is no doubting that. Sébastien Ogier produced an incredibly impressive display, particularly from a mental point of view, and fully deserved to win in the end.’

Latvala withdrawal
After their Swedish set-back, Latvala and Anttila made a joint decision with Volkswagen Motorsport to end their Rally Sweden story early after after the closing Power Stage and retire their Polo R WRC. A rule which is intended to restrict the specification of certain car components was behind the decision. Teams must nominate ‘a list of linked rallies intended to be run with the same transmission and spare parts’.

For Latvala and Anttila, the Swedish, and forthcoming Mexican and Argentinian rounds of the 2015 season would have been linked together. The withdrawal in Sweden gives them greater freedom when selecting future components and the set-up of their Polo R WRC.

Ogier speeding penalty
Sébastien Ogier may have claimed victory in Sweden but he was also awarded a suspended two-minute time penalty. A speeding infringement on the recce route was given to the Frenchman due to him being recorded driving too fast on seven separate occasions during reconnaissance stages. He escaped a penalty at the Scandinavian event, but will have the offence hanging over him for the next 13 rounds of the championship.

If Ogier is picked up speeding on recce stages again this season (road sections on rallies themselves are not counted), the penalty will be applied on that particular event. The Frenchman also collected a €1232 fine.

2015 was the third time Volkswagen Motorsport has won the 308km Rally Sweden event since it joined the WRC fray in 2013, and its 24th win in 28 rallies. The 318bhp Polo R WRC has also claimed 361 out of a possible 521 wins, a truly world-class pedigree. The next round of the 2015 FIA World Rally Championship is Rally Mexico, which runs from 5-8 March.

2015 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP,

RALLY SWEDEN FINAL RESULTS


1 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (F/F), Volkswagen: 2h 55m 30.5s

2 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (B/B), Hyundai: + 6.4s

3 Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Fløene (N/N), Volkswagen: + 39.8s

4 Ott Tänak/Raigo Mõlder (EST/EST), Ford: + 2m 26.0s

5Hayden Paddon/John Kennard (NZ/NZ), Hyundai: + 3m 31.5s

2015 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP,

DRIVERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS


1 Sébastien Ogier, 53
2 Andreas Mikkelsen, 30
3 Thierry Neuville, 30

4 Jari-Matti Latvala, 19

5 Mads Østberg, 14

2015 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP,

MANUFACTURERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS


1 Volkswagen Motorsport, 71

2 Hyundai Motorsport, 55
3 M-Sport, 32

4 Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT, 20
5 Volkswagen Motorsport II, 15

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