Ogier wins Rally Australia 2013

Martin Holmes Updated: September 17, 2013, 06:29 PM IST

In a rally which suddenly burst into life on the very last stage, VW driver Sebastien Ogier scored his 13th world rally victory, won all but three of the stages including the Power Stage but failed by one point to clinch the world drivers' title – because second placed Mikko Hirvonen had suspension damage and was delayed.  This allowed Thierry Neuville to finish his fourth successive WRC event in second place, and keep Ogier waiting for his crown.  The only previous dramatic moment came when Hirvonen's Citroen teammate Kris Meeke crashed on the second full afternoon. Officials allowed his car to continue after repair, but he also had suspension damage on the final stage, and for him it was too far to drive to the finish. Ogier now hopes to become world champion on the next event, his own country's Rallye de France. The WRC2 category was won for the third time this year by Abdulaziz Al Kuwari after earlier leaders Yazeed Al Rajhi broke his steering on Day 1 then early in Day 2 Yuriy Protasov spun and punctured.


Run only for the second time in the forests almost midway between Brisbane and Sydney like in 2011, this time in dry conditions, running order strongly influenced performances, with the times on the Qualifying Stage bearing an inordinate effect on the results of the rally. It was Kris Meeke who was quickest in QS and he wisely elected to run as far back as possible, in tenth place, with second quickest Ogier in ninth, third quickest Neuville in eighth and poor runs meant that Latvala was running third and Novikov fourth.  The dusty conditions forced the organisers to extend the gaps between the cars firstly to three minutes and Day 2 to four, but the road sweeping effect on the stages was still very significant.

While Ogier was performing his Mister Perfect act his VW teammates were not so happy.  It took Latvala a long time to become completely happy with his car, then had two delays with punctures and despite lying fourth for over half the rally probably one he will want to forget. Although Mikkelsen initially led after the first two publicity stages he suffered bad QS Syndrome which caused him to run on still unclean roads on the first full day, overshooting a turning and lost time waiting for the thick clouds of dust – his dust – to clear before setting off again.  This accentuated his woes, by being badly reseeded thereafter!  Ogier's performance however was a dramatic reversal of the misfortunes which afflicted VW in Germany.  Every stage except one was won by one of their drivers.  In the Manufacturers' title race VW have increased their lead over Citroen from 26 to 48 points and with a maximum of 129 points still available the title in this series remains a battle between these two makes but with second place still open between Citroen and both Qatar teams.


Citroen controversially replaced Dani Sordo in the number 1 team with Kris Meeke for this event, the Irishman's first rally as a full team member.  His remit was to help reduce the championship pressure from the VW drivers in their quest to win the makes title as well as delay Ogier's Drivers' title aspirations. Initially this worked well as Hirvonen and Meeke went through Day 1 in second and third places but it started to falter when Meeke lost third place to Neuville after stalling on the start line of a Super Special then catastrophically crashed on stage 13.  Hirvonen meanwhile, was a different driver to recent events - happy, relaxed, uncomplaining – until the very final stage when his suspension collapsed, moments after Meeke who had the same but worse trouble and had to retire.  Team patron Khalid Al Qassimi suffered badly from the running order but struggled on to finish ninth behind the private Mini John Cooper Works WRC of local driver Nathan Quinn.

All three M-Sport drivers (Ostberg, Novikov and Neuville) were new to the event (indeed of the World Rally Car drivers only five had rallied on these stages before), and once he had become adjusted to the conditions Neuville revelled in the fast and slippery stage conditions, Ostberg and Novikov remained uneasy.  Ostberg unusually suffered a lot of pacenote problems and then went off the road and lost time, which made his eventual fifth place, ahead of Mikkelsen, important. But Novikov was unhappy all rally, but gave himself self confidence in bringing his car home undamaged and finally scored a supplemental point on the final Power Stage.  Neuville continues to be the surprise of the 2013 WRC season, this being his sixth podium result of the year and fourth consecutive second place.

The return for Australia to the calendar on only the third time the country had been in the WRC since it left Perth in 2006 was a delightful occasion for everyone there, providing an event which balances the remarkable quality of stages offered by neighbouring New Zealand, but the event was not well supported. Only 29 crews started the WRC event, exactly the same number as in 2011, equivalent to the level of entries in the recent long haul events in Argentina and Mexico and not many less than in New Zealand or Japan. Quality however was there in full measure (even if Mr Ogier overshadowed the others) but the quantity was badly missing.


Abdulaziz Al Kuwari had the sort of rally in his Fiesta RRC for which his championship challenge has been marked by staying out of trouble, inheriting places when rivals failed and winning none of the stages. Yazeed Al Rajhi was quickest on the initial stages before his Fiesta RRC's steering failed. Then Yuriy Protasov's Fiesta R5 spun and suffered a puncture.  This let Al Kuwari lead Protasov to the finish.  Of the nine drivers in the WRC2 only two completed the route, but only one actually retired, this was Subhan Aksa's R5. Fastest of the WRC2 drivers, however, winning 11 of the 14 stages he actually contested was Hayden Paddon in the only normally-aspirated S2000 car in the field. He actually achieved a top six fastest time on the final stage of the event and finished fifth in the category.  Kazakhstan driver Arman Smailov won the Production Cup category in his Subaru despite missing stages with suspension trouble, finishing ahead of Venezuelan Alejandro Lombardo's Mitsubishi.  The WRC2 title race is now down to just three drivers with Al Kuwari (who has now scored six times) ahead of Kubica (who has only scored five times) by 17 points with Al Rajhi 49 points behind (but who has only scored three times).

VW Motorsport Director Jost Capito said he was not so happy at the last minute Drivers' championship frustration for Sebastien and his codriver Julien Ingrassia, "They have done an outstanding job and all the company is very proud of them.  For Volkswagen the Manufacturers' championship is very important.  To have the lead with more than 40 points means that Seb will be allowed to really fight in (the next rally in) France.  He can really go for it, I'm sure he's happy for this!"  So, what does that mean? That Ogier is on the verge of winning the world championship and hasn't been allowed to try hard till now?  Fireworks are to come with the final battle between the two Sebs.


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