Volkswagen's Jari-Matti Latvala looks well placed to win Rallye de France-Alsace having finished day two with a 28 second lead.
Latvala took his fifth stage win of the day and his ninth stage win of the event in SS14, Mulhouse - the final one of the leg, and in the process added another 2.4 seconds to his lead.
The Finn had begun the day just 8.2 seconds up on team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen, but a hat-trick of stage wins this morning saw him almost double his advantage. He then pulled further ahead on the repeat loop and now looks on course for that maiden win on asphalt, providing he doesn't repeat the sort of final day error that cost him victory in Germany back in August.
“I have a good feeling with the car and I am looking forward to tomorrow,” Latvala said after SS14. “Sunshine would be nice for the spectators tomorrow. I am not worried about the rain myself...”
“A superb day of rallying for us,” Latvala added back in the overnight service. “My team-mate Andreas certainly did not hand it to us on a plate today, and I had to drive intelligently, particularly in the morning. I attacked where I was familiar with the route from previous years, and showed the appropriate caution where it was new to me.
“I did not risk everything today, but the goal was to open up a bit of a cushion, so that we can afford to ease off a little tomorrow – and we did just that. I feel very comfortable in the Polo and am looking forward to the final day tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, Mikkelsen, who was right there with Latvala on Friday, has seemingly settled for the runners-up spot now.
“That was a successful day for us,” Mikkelsen remarked. “Sure, my team-mate Jari-Matti did manage to extend his lead over us, but we also created a bit of breathing space ahead of Kris Meeke and third place. We pushed harder wherever I felt secure, but were also intelligent enough to set a reasonable pace on the difficult sections.
“We would obviously have liked to have been quicker here and there, but the risk of ruining our best WRC rally on asphalt so far was too great. We really want to bring this good result home tomorrow. There is a bit of a gap to the guys ahead and behind us – that ought to help.”
Kris Meeke completes the top-three and as planned he has consolidated third position in his Citroen DS3 WRC car, posting top-five times in every test, bar SS10.
“No drama on today's leg,” noted the Ulsterman. “We managed to improve as the day went on and get closer to the times of the leaders. The gaps aren't set in stone ahead of us. We know that a lot can still happen on Sunday's stages. The new roads look pretty daunting and the weather could make a big difference. Given the lead we have over our nearest challengers, we may even have the opportunity to try something in terms of tyre choice.”
Behind, Hyundai's Dani Sordo heads a three-way fight for fourth, just 0.9 seconds up on former F1 driver Robert Kubica, while Mikko Hirvonen is also in the mix in the other M-Sport Fiesta RS WRC, just 12 seconds further back.
“We've had a very good day and it has been fun to be in such a close battle for fourth place with Robert,” said Sordo. “I have had a much better feeling with the Hyundai i20 WRC today which has helped us to gain more confidence.
“We made some adjustments after yesterday and we have seen the improvements in today's stages. We didn't need to change much at the remote service and we had a trouble-free afternoon. The times are very close so we will be hoping to continue in this direction in the final stages and we look forward to resuming the fight for fourth place in the morning.”
“I think we've had a good day and we've been driving well,” Kubica added. “Ever since the second loop yesterday I think that we have shown some good pace. There are of course still things to improve, but I think that is the same for most people on this event and that we can be satisfied with the job we have done today.
“I drove my own rally and will do the same tomorrow. For me, I think the most important thing is to have fun, enjoy the driving and gain the experience.”
Mads Ostberg had been in amongst that scrap too, but had to stop on the road section before SS13 to repair a leaky rear diff. It meant he was late into the time control landing him with a 1 minute 10 second penalty that dropped him from sixth to seventh. He ends the day exactly 1min 10secs off Hirvonen.
“I really enjoyed driving the DS3 WRC on the first loop,” said Ostberg. “We had a good rhythm and we were beating some of the leading guys on tarmac. On SS11, I started to feel a bit of instability on the rear axle. There was a leak on the differential. We decided it was better to carry out repairs between stages to be sure of making it to the end of the day. The penalty we were given for checking in late dropped us down to seventh. It's disappointing, but we can still score some important points tomorrow.”
Elfyn Evans holds eighth, 12.2 seconds further adrift, with Hyundai duo Bryan Bouffier and Thierry Neuville ninth and tenth respectively.
“The morning was fairly strong for us, especially when we got used to the set-up changes we made last night. It took a stage to build up the confidence, but on the whole I think it was pretty good,” Evans noted. “We struggled a little this afternoon. The feeling in the car wasn't too bad but the times perhaps weren't as strong as they had been in the morning so we'll analyse that this evening to see where we were losing and where we can make improvements.
“But as I say I think it has been another very positive day for us. Apart from a half spin – which was a bit of a clumsy mistake to be honest – we've kept it clean and the pace hasn't been too far off what we're looking for.
“Mads [Østberg] lost some time today so we're only 12 seconds behind him now. We'll see how we go tomorrow, but if the fight is there, I'll certainly take it to him!”
“It's good for the team that we have all three cars still running at the end of the second day with all of us inside the top ten,” added Neuville. “I have struggled with the settings of the car today, particularly this morning, and I wasn't able to adapt my driving style to feel comfortable and 'at one' with the car.
“The guys made some adjustments during remote service which definitely helped but there is still room for improvement. I have given my best today and we are making good progress, which is the ultimate objective for us this weekend. We have four stages remaining tomorrow to see what more we can get out of ourselves and the car.”
Of the rest, Martin Prokop lies just outside the points in P11, 49.2 seconds off Neuville, while Sebastian Ogier has hauled his way back to 18th after his problems on Friday.
“The Polo was perfect again today, and we had absolutely no problems,” said Ogier. “My co-driver Julien [Ingrassia] and I soon found a good rhythm. As such, I am very happy with our performance. It is obviously hard to motivate oneself to push for every last tenth of a second when you are so far off the lead. However, that is precisely what we will be aiming to do tomorrow when there are extra points up for grabs again on the Power Stage. There is no question about it: we want to score the maximum points possible towards the World Championship.”
In WRC2, Quentin Gilbert leads in his Fiesta R5, 5.7 seconds up on Bernardo Sousa. Sebastien Chardonnet is third.
The event now concludes on Sunday with two stages on the bill, both to be run twice, covering a competitive distance of 63.38 kilometres.
SS15, the 12.33 kilometre Foret de La Petite Pierre 1 test, is due to start at 07.30 hours local time [06.30 hours UK time].
Rallye de France-Alsace: Overall standings after Stage 14 (Top 10):
1. Jari-Matti Latvala Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 2hrs 06m 40.4s M
2. Andreas Mikkelsen Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +00m 28.0s M
3. Kris Meeke Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +00m 53.7s M
4. Dani Sordo Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +01m 41.1s M
5. Robert Kubica RK M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01m 42.6s M
6. Mikko Hirvonen M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01m 54.6s M
7. Mads Ostberg Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +03m 04.6s M
8. Elfyn Evans M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +03m 16.8s M
9. Bryan Bouffier Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC +03m 47.0s M
10. Thierry Neuville Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +04m 03.7s M
11. Martin Prokop Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +04m 52.9s M
12. Julien Maurin Ford Fiesta RS WRC +05m 37.5s
13. Dennis Kuipers M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +06m 12.9s
14. Kevin Abbring Peugeot 208 T16 +07m 40.9s
15. Yuriy Protasov M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +08m 02.4s
16. Quentin Gilbert Ford Fiesta R5 +08m 43.1s WRC2
17. Bernardo Sousa Ford Fiesta RRC +08m 48.8s WRC2
18. Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +08m 53.4s M
WRC2 standings after Stage 14 (Top 3):
1. Quentin Gilbert Ford Fiesta R5 2hr 15m 23.5s WRC2
2. Bernardo Sousa Ford Fiesta RRC +00m 05.7s WRC2
3. Sebastien Chardonnet Citroen DS3 R5 +02m 02.9s WRC2
SS2. Marty McCormack Ford Fiesta R5 Accident WRC2
SS11. Francois Delecour Porsche 997 GT3 Accident RGT*
M denotes Manufacturer entry
*denotes will re-start under Rally 2 on Sunday
all times unofficial