Sébastien Ogier will carry a margin of just over half-a-minute into the final day of this weekend's Rally Jordan, after his three pursuers indulged in a game of tactical warfare to try to ensure themselves of the best starting position on Saturday.
With Citroën's new DS3 WRC proving to be marginally quicker than the new Ford Fiesta over Jordan's demanding loose gravel stages, Ogier claimed two stage victories and four second places on Friday to speed ahead of Citroën Total World Rally Team team-mate, countryman and namesake Sébastien Loeb, Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team star Jari-Matti Latvala and former World Rally Champion Petter Solberg – with all four men having won at least one stage.
“I think it's been a good day,” Ogier told the official WRC website. “We have a lead of over 30 seconds, which isn't so bad, although now we'll have to open the road for everyone else tomorrow.”
Indeed, as the recent Rally Portugal winner pressed on in an effort to build up an advantage – in the knowledge that as the 'road sweeper' for the final eight stages of the shortened event, he will need one – Messrs. Loeb, Latvala and Solberg resorted to a game of deliberate slowing through the Jordan River stage in an effort not to end the day placed second.
“I slowed down in the middle of the final stage and I tried to make the other drivers push,” revealed the WRC's 'record man', whose stunning fastest time on SS7, Suwayma, belied his second-on-the-road position. “I couldn't do much tactics being second on-the-road so I tried to do that, but Ogier still has a good lead.”
The trio are separated by a mere 3.7 seconds, whilst further back – much further back – Latvala's team-mate and compatriot Mikko Hirvonen gave a vivid demonstration of the disadvantage of having to run first on Friday's slippery gravel stages by conceding some two-and-a-half minutes in fifth.
There, the Finn runs only just ahead of ex-F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen, who improved significantly as the day wore on and impressed in his privately-entered ICE 1 Racing Citroën DS3 WRC as he overhauled M-Sport Stobart rival Matthew Wilson on the last stage of the day.
Behind the Briton, Khalid Al Qassimi has risen to eighth, ahead of fellow Ford Fiesta RS WRC ace Federico Villagra and runaway Super 2000 leader Nasser Al-Attiyah.
There was misery, however, for Henning Solberg, who hit a rock on the first run through the gruelling 41km Jordan River stage that led to the engine in his Ford Fiesta incurring damage and precipitated the Norwegian's retirement from his 100th WRC appearance – whilst M-Sport Stobart team-mate Mads Østberg suffered a broken gearbox close to the beginning of the following stage.
Rally Jordan: Overall standings after Stage 12 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Ogier
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 1hr 32mins 53.4secs
2. Sebastien Loeb
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 31.6secs
3. Jari-Matti Latvala
Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 33.1secs
4. Petter Solberg
PSWRT Citroen DS3 WRC +00mins 35.3secs
5. Mikko Hirvonen
Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +02mins 30.9secs
6. Kimi Raikkonen
ICE1 Racing Citroen DS3 WRC +02mins 45.8secs
7. Matthew Wilson
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +02mins 57.8secs
8. Khalid Al-Qassimi
Team Abu Dhabi Fiesta RS WRC +04mins 49.7secs
9. Federico Villagra
Munchis Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +04mins 54.2secs
10. Nasser Al-Attiyah
Barwa Rally Team Fiesta S2000 +05mins 19.3secs
11. Bernardo Sousa
Team Quinta do Lorde Fiesta S2000 +07mins 14.8secs
12. Dennis Kuipers
FERM Powertools Ford Fiesta RS WRC +07mins 20.7secs
15. Peter Van Merksteijn
Van Merksteijn Citroen DS3 WRC +09mins 57.8secs
17. Mads Ostberg
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +15mins 51.7secs
21. Henning Solberg
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +20mins 29.8secs
SWRC standings after Stage 12 (Top 3):
1. Nasser Al-Attiyah
Barwa Rally Team Fiesta S2000 1hr 38mins 12.7secs
2. Bernardo Sousa
Team Quinta do Lorde Fiesta S2000 +01mins 55.5secs
3. Karl Kruuda
ME3 Rally Team Skoda Fabia S2000 +03mins 06.8secs
all times unofficial