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Ogier remains on top; misfortune strikes Ford

26 March 2011

It is now a two-horse race on Rally Portugal this weekend following the completion of the penultimate day, and both of those horses are from the same stable, after a second misfortune struck Ford – and this time on the car of Jari-Matti Latvala.

From a seven-second advantage at the midway point on Saturday, Sébastien Ogier currently holds a margin of nigh-on 40 seconds heading into the final day – only now he is being pursued, as in Mexico three weeks ago, by his own Citroën Total World Rally Team team-mate and compatriot Sébastien Loeb.

“For the moment it's perfect, but there are still 100 kilometres to go and we saw a lot of problems for a lot of drivers,” mused the leader, expressing caution on what is turning out to be a real rally of attrition. “We plan to be easy with the car and the tyres, but it's not easy. Without any problems it should be okay, but it's not finished.”

“I think he will keep the lead he has,” added Loeb. “For sure it will be very difficult to catch him, because there's not so much cleaning happening and he is far in front so there is nothing to do. I thought it was easy to get a puncture on the final stage today, so I slowed down a bit on the stage.”

Latvala's hopes were dashed by a costly driveshaft failure on SS12. The Crash.net columnist subsequently had to stop to change a puncture, leaving him more than four minutes adrift of Ogier and ostensibly with his victory hopes in tatters – a double blow for the Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team, with a puncture followed by a broken rear suspension on SS13 similarly knocking team-mate Mikko Hirvonen out of the hunt. The world championship leader will begin from fifth on Sunday, and conceded that 'we could have been in the fight but now it's just very disappointing'.

Still, at least Hirvonen was able to bury the hatchet with Loeb following the pair's earlier ill-tempered spat. The WRC's 'recordman' had accused his title rival of deliberately trying to sabotage his charge in order to protect Latvala's then lead, by stunting his progress in clouds of dust [see separate story – click here]. Like the dust, though, the dispute has now blown over.

“I was angry with Mikko, but it's not his fault,” Loeb told the official championship website of the 30-second time loss that he had blamed for 'destroying' his bid for glory. “He could imagine I was there, but he could not know for sure. He cannot stop for nothing. It was the choice of Ford not to let me go, because I said to my team on the radio that we were in the dust and we couldn't see anything. They called Ford, but they said I had to stay behind.”

“I would be unhappy in that situation as well,” concurred Hirvonen. “The next stage he came and apologised to me about the whole thing, and I said I was sorry but there was nothing I could do about it. For sure, for everybody it looks like we protected Jari-Matti, but I just wanted to get back in the car and then carry on flat-out, which was the right thing to do. I didn't know how long my tyre change took, but I didn't see any dust or anything coming so I thought it was a fairly good change. Then we got back in the car and went flat-out.”

Whilst Citroën Sport director Olivier Quesnel confessed to being 'really frustrated' with the situation, his Ford counterpart Malcolm Wilson was shouldering none of the responsibility.

“We explained that Mikko had had a puncture but was back up to full speed,” the Englishman revealed. “They came back two or three times because Loeb was understandably being anxious, but I don't feel in any way, shape or form bad about what's happened. We've spent time practising [changing tyres] because we knew punctures would be an issue. At the end of the day, it's a storm in a teacup because Sébastien went to apologise to Mikko. He knows it was wrong to do what he did [at the end of the stage].”

Hirvonen's misfortune has elevated M-Sport Stobart ace Matthew Wilson into fourth, although the Briton conceded that 'it's unbelievably hard knowing what pace to drive at, whether to push to keep the concentration or back off to avoid problems', with team-mate Henning Solberg falling away in sixth following an intermittent power steering problem and a puncture.

The Norwegian is now just over a minute clear of seventh-placed Kimi Raikkonen, the ex-F1 World Champion much happier with the handling of his privately-run ICE1 Racing Citroën DS3 WRC, although himself battling dust issues when he had to follow the crippled Armindo Araújo for eight kilometres through SS11. The local hero grappled against a lack of power throughout the day, before a puncture and a suspected engine fault dropped him from a promising seventh to 17th on the MINI John Cooper Works Super 2000's WRC debut. Brazil World Rally Team's Daniel Oliveira in the other MINI on the event is 15th.

Federico Villagra runs eighth, ahead of the recovering Petter Solberg – and fast-recovering at that, with three stage triumphs to his name on Saturday – and Dennis Kuipers. Khalid Al Qassimi dropped out of the top ten after a collision with a rock broke the rear suspension on his Ford Fiesta RS WRC on SS11, whilst the luckless Mads Østberg suffered a power steering fault that cost him further ground. Peter van Merksteijn Jr was halted by an engine problem in the morning.


Rally de Portugal: Overall standings after Stage 13 (Top 10):

1. Sebastien Ogier Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 2hrs 59mins 30.2secs M
2. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 37.6secs M
3. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +04mins 14.6secs M
4. Matthew Wilson M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +05mins 26.8secs A0
5. Mikko Hirvonen Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +05mins 32.5secs M
6. Henning Solberg M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +07mins 46.4secs M
7. Kimi Raikkonen ICE1 Racing Citroen DS3 WRC +08mins 55.2secs M
8. Federico Villagra Munchis Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +09mins 10.0secs M
9. Petter Solberg PSWRT Citroen DS3 WRC +11mins 27.1secs M
10. Dennis Kuipers FERM Powertools Ford Fiesta RS WRC +13mins 07.9secs M


Others:

15. Khalid Al-Qassimi Team Abu Dhabi Fiesta RS WRC +22mins 51.9secs M
17. Armindo Araújo Motorsport Italia/BAMP Mini John Cooper Works S2000 +24mins 19.6secs A1
21. Anders Grondal Subaru Impreza STi +27mins 48.2secs P
24. Daniel Oliveira Brazil WRT Mini John Cooper Works S2000 +29mins 50.1secs M
34. Peter Van Merksteijn Van Merksteijn Citroen DS3 WRC +34mins 47.0secs M
55. Mads Ostberg M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +59mins 43.8secs M


PWRC standings after Stage 13 (Top 3):

1. Hayden Paddon Subaru Impreza STI 3hrs 13mins 37.0secs P
2. Benito Guerra Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +06mins 35.8secs P
3. Jukka Ketomaki Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +09mins 23.5secs P


WRC Academy standings after Stage 13 (Top 3):

1. Egon Kaur Ford Fiesta R2 3hrs 30mins 13.8secs A
2. Victor Henriksson Ford Fiesta R2 +00mins 16.4secs A
3. Christian Riedemann Ford Fiesta R2 +03mins 31.2secs A


Notable retirements:

Bernardo Sousa Team Quinta do Lorde Fiesta RS WRC Accident on SS7 A0
Ken Block Monster WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Crashed in shakedown


all times unofficial


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