World Rally Champion Sebastien Ogier has won the UK’s round of the 2015 series, Wales Rally GB, after a classy display in his VW Polo WRC.
The three-day event was held in appalling conditions as storms, wind and rain lashed through the forests of north Wales. Ogier was fastest from Friday’s opening stage, and his task was made even more straightforward when his team-mate Jari-Matti Latvia slid off into a ditch in the Sweet Lamb complex in only the second test.
Thereafter, Ogier was able to keep local star Kris Meeke at bay, occasionally ceding a few seconds but then grabbing them back. His biggest scare came on Saturday, when he was slowed by a car that had crashed in front of him on a stage; he briefly dropped behind Meeke as a result, but the organisers handed him back the time lost, allowing him to continue his dominance.
Northern Irishman Meeke acknowledged early on that his Citroën DS3 WRC lacked the outright pace to beat Ogier’s VW Polo WRC on pure speed. And in any case, the Rally Argentina winner had been tasked with scoring enough points to secure Citroën Racing second spot in the manufacturer’s championship. He did this with second overall - the best finish for a Briton on the country’s WRC round since Richard Burns won outright in 2000, and the first podium since Burns claimed third to win the world title in 2001.
Third went to the other works VW Polo of Andreas Mikkelsen, who recovered well after recent illness and missing the pre-event shakedown to visit the team doctor in Germany. The Hyundai i20 WRCs of Dani Sordo and Hayden Paddon finished fourth and fifth respectively, while the other British hope, Elfyn Evans, did well to overcome time lost with a puncture to claim sixth.
Frenchman Ogier declined to celebrate his victory in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris; he and his co-driver Julien Ingrassia displayed a French flag on the bonnet of their car at the finish line, and all three of the crews on the podium held the Tricolore in a display of sympathy with the victims.
Ogier, Latvia and Mikkelsen have already been confirmed at VW for 2016, and Paddon has the security of a deal with Hyundai for next season too. The future is less certain for any of the other top drivers, though - including Meeke and Evans, who have yet to sign contracts, despite the fact that testing for the opening round of the 2016 season, the Monte Carlo Rally, is due to start in the next few weeks.
Wales Rally GB - leading finishers
1 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (VW Polo WRC) 3h03m02.0s
2 Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle (DS 3 WRC) +26.0s
3 Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Floene (VW Polo WRC) +36.2s
4 Dani Sordo/Marc Marti (Hyundai i20 WRC) +2m51.2s
5 Hayden Paddon/John Kennard (Hyundai i20 WRC) +3m00.5s
6 Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +3m09.1s