Sebastien Ogier has taken the early lead on Wales Rally GB this morning, winning three of the four stages in his Volkswagen Polo R WRC and finishing the loop 9.5 seconds up on team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala.
Ogier was immediately quickest out of the blocks, finishing the opening stage, the 14.58 km Gartheiniog 1 test, 4.5 seconds up on his closest rival. The Frenchman was then fastest again in SS2, gaining another 4.3 seconds, and while he was 'only' second in SS3, conceding 2.2 seconds, he responded in Maesnant 1 and led the way, 2.8 seconds up on Latvala.
“Most of the [last] stage was okay but the last kilometre is really, really tricky,” Ogier remarked after SS4 and ahead of the 15 minute mid-day remote service in Newton.
“It has, however, been a great morning for us,” he added. “Everything has been going well and the car is perfect.”
Latvala reported that he overshot a junction in SS4 and lost 4-5 seconds. He also revealed that he was lucky to get through SS2.
“It was difficult [in the second stage], we had a big moment - I hit a hole and we were very lucky not to roll. It is difficult. I am not happy with my driving and I need to do better. I am having understeer in places...” he noted.
Speaking after SS4, he remarked: “I did a mistake at the first junction [in SS4] and I kind of overshot. I lost 4-5 seconds there. It was ok after that - the mid section was okay. But I will not be surprised if someone goes off towards the end it is very, very slippery.”
Behind the duel for the lead, Mads Ostberg holds third in his Citroen, 30.6 seconds back, although it is close behind.
“It is a proper Wales stage [this, SS4],” Ostberg stated. “It is a big challenge and I am quite happy with the time. The road position is helping on a stage like this. I changed the notes to make a corner slower. You are doing 200kph with a big drop on one side and the road is covered in mud.”
M-Sport's Mikko Hirvonen trails Ostberg in fourth, just 4.5 seconds back, with Kris Meeke fifth, 7.7 seconds further adrift, although he incurred a 10-second penalty in SS1 when he was judged to have jumped the start.
“I've just been driving at my own pace and it's really close with Mads so I think we're going to have a good fight there. Everything has been going well and I feel really comfortable so let's see how it goes,” Hirvonen stated.
Meeke added: “It [the road conditions] are getting worse, the first car has an advantage, and he [Ogier] has a good car and he is the World Champion.
“I almost spun early in SS4, I thought I lost three or four seconds, so I am happy with my time [and being third quickest in there]. It looks like I had a jump start on the first stage but I have no idea why I got it.”
Hyundai's Thierry Neuville rounds out the top six, just 0.6 seconds off Meeke, with M-Sport WRT man and Crash.net columnist Elfyn Evans seventh.
“It's been slippery out there, but there are people behind me who have had to deal with even worse conditions and I think that is reflected in the times,” Evans commented. “It's difficult to determine the true performance. In areas I feel that it's been okay, and in others I feel that there's room for improvement.
“There's more to come, but I'm conscious of the fact that I don't want to make a mistake on the first day. Then again everyone seems to be going pretty quickly so let's see what we can do.”
Ott Tanak, Hayden Paddon and Martin Prokop hold positions 8 through to 10, with Henning Solberg 11th - after intermittent engine problems - and Robert Kubica 12th.
“I took it very easy this morning. On the last stage [SS4] I made a mistake and missed a junction as I was correcting a pacenote from the corner before. But other than that it's been a good, steady morning," Kubica stated.
“The conditions are not easy. The stages are really nice, fast and flowing, but the grip levels are changing all the time. Only here can you gain experience of these kinds of roads and these kinds of conditions so we won't take any risks and will just concentrate on learning as much as we can."
In WRC2, Jari Ketomaa has set the early pace - winning all four stages to build a 29.6 second lead over Tom Cave. Nasser Al-Attiyah holds third, 2.2s further back, and focused on getting to the finish to ensure he secures the WRC2 title.
As for retirements, Volkswagen Motorsport II driver Andreas Mikkelsen and Hyundai's Juho Hanninen were the two big casualties. Mikkelsen went out after going into a bank in SS2. He managed to complete the test, but was unable to continue. Hanninen went off in the following test, putting his Hyundai in a ditch around 5 kilometres in.
The opening leg now continues this afternoon with a repeat-run through this morning's four stages. SS5, the 14.58km Gartheiniog test, is due to start at 13.03 hours local time.
Wales Rally GB: Overall standings after Stage 4 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 42m 34.1s M
2. Jari-Matti Latvala Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +00m 09.5s M
3. Mads Ostberg Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +00m 40.1s M
4. Mikko Hirvonen M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00m 44.6s M
5. Kris Meeke Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +00m 52.3s M
6. Thierry Neuville Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +00m 52.9s M
7. Elfyn Evans M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01m 06.4s M
8. Ott Tanak Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01m 31.4s
9. Hayden Paddon Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC +01m 40.3s M
10. Martin Prokop Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01m 41.2s M
11. Henning Solberg Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01m 47.2s
12. Robert Kubica RK M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +02m 05.8s M
13. Jari Ketomaa Ford Fiesta R5 +03m 24.0s WRC2
WRC2 standings after Stage 4 (Top 3):
1. Jari Ketomaa Ford Fiesta R5 45m 58.1s WRC2
2. Tom Cave Ford Fiesta R5 +00m 29.6s WRC2
3. Nasser Al-Attiyah Ford Fiesta RRC +00m 31.8s WRC2
SS2. Andreas Mikkelsen Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC Hit a bank M
SS3. Juho Hanninen Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC Went off M
M denotes Manufacturer entry
all times unofficial