Volkswagen ace Sebastien Ogier finished his title winning season in style by taking his ninth victory of the year today on Wales Rally GB.
Ogier, who had already secured the 2013 WRC Drivers' title in France last month, dominated the final round in the 2013 World Rally Championship, leading from start-to-finish in his Polo R WRC car. He began by setting the pace in qualifying, and after opting to run second in the order, he was then quickest through all three of the night stages on Thursday to establish an early 3.2 second lead.
The Frenchman then increased that cushion to 13.5 seconds on Friday morning, before taking a clean sweep of stage wins on the repeat loop to cement his place at the top of the times.
Ogier went into day three with a 20.1 second advantage over team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala and while it ebbed and flowed - with Ogier initially pulling further ahead and then Latvala putting him under a pressure with three stages win in a row in SS12, SS13 and SS14 - it finished with the two split by pretty much the same margin.
The final day then went off without a hitch, with Ogier taking two more stage wins – and taking his tally to eight – and eventually coming home 21.8 seconds up on Latvala.
“It is really amazing. I am so happy,” said Ogier at the finish of SS22, the 4.58 km Great Orme test. “A big thanks to the team. The car has been perfect this weekend. We haven't been so good here in the past, but we had a great battle with my team-mate which was special. It is another great victory for us. It's been a perfect season. It will be a hard challenge to keep the title next year."
Latvala meanwhile had to be content with the runners-up spot and while he could match Ogier at times, he failed to do it consistently enough to challenge for the win.
"Of course I'm disappointed I couldn't catch Ogier," said Latvala. "I was hungry for the third victory here, but it didn't work out this year. I really need to concentrate on keeping the rhythm, because the speed is definitely there. I've made too many mistakes here and I haven't had the rhythm all weekend. I need to work on that for next year."
Thierry Neuville was next up and took the final spot on the podium, albeit more than a minute further back in his Qatar World Rally Team-run Fiesta RS WRC. Neuville ran second early on, but then dropped further and further back. Third place, however, was still enough to ensure the Belgian finished in second place in the Drivers' Championship, 14 points ahead of Latvala.
"I'm really, really happy with that [second in the Drivers' Championship]," said Neuville. "We couldn't imagine it at the beginning of the season that I would be second in the championship. New car, new team, everybody has worked really, really hard, and I need to thank everyone. Of course I am sad to be leaving this team, but I must also look forward [now to when I join Hyundai]. We're going to push and keep working hard, but we can manage with the experience we have."
Behind, Mads Ostberg beat Andreas Mikkelsen in the battle for fourth. Mikkelsen ended Saturday 7.3 seconds ahead, but the Volkswagen Motorsport II pilot spun in the opening stage today and lost 10 seconds. He then suffered another spin in SS19, before eventually having to admit defeat.
"It was a good fight. A big shame we didn't find the speed earlier, but it's nice to have a good last day and to have some good speed," said Ostberg. "Over the year there have been good moments and some bad ones, but we have learned a lot. I am looking forward to starting next year [in a WRC car]. I hope to maintain this pace."
“It was a good weekend, although it didn't end the way I wanted,” Mikkelsen added. “Sadly we made two mistakes today and that cost me. But we had good speed and overall it's been a positive weekend. It's been an amazing year for the team.”
Martin Prokop was next up and a distant sixth in his privately entered Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC. He put in another solid performance to take his tenth points result of 2013.
"This season has been perfect – really good," he stated. "We had a really good feeling after Spain, but it wasn't very good here and the event start really badly. But we made some changes and it got better. Overall we've had some very good results during the year. I hope to see you in Monte Carlo!"
Dani Sordo was seventh and the sole Citroen at the finish, after team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Robert Kubica both crashed out. Hirvonen went out on Friday in SS6, when co-driver, Jarmo Lehtinen made a mistake. Kubica also went out on day two, when he rolled it in SS4. The Pole re-started on Saturday, but then crashed out again – this time for good – in SS11.
Sordo's event, however, was compromised before it even began, when he picked up a 5 minute penalty for using his ninth chassis of the season. Citroen later revealed that the penalty came about after the Spaniard's car was unintentionally built on a chassis that had been allocated to its second team, with team boss Yves Matton apologising for the mistake.
"It was difficult, but I enjoyed it in the stages. From the beginning it was unfortunate with the penalty," Sordo admitted. "I wasn't on the pace really... I don't know what will happen for me in 2014, I'm talking to some people."
Further back, local star Elfyn Evans came in eighth overall and took his maiden win in the WRC2 class, around a minute up on Jari Ketomaa: “It feels great to win here and get the home win,” said Evans. “It has been a great learning experience with M-Sport this season. I'm really grateful to them. They've given me a fantastic car."
Mark Higgins completed the top ten, and was third in WRC2, a very fine performance on his first outing in the WRC since 2008: “I just really enjoyed it,” said the 42-year-old and three-time British Rally Champion. "Everything about it has been great - the atmosphere, the new venues and the stages have all been amazing. We had a few niggles at the start, but a class podium is pretty good. I'd love to come back next year, we'll see what we can do. I've got another 10-15 years yet, there is definitely more to come!"
Of the rest, Eyvind Brynildsen, Tom Cave, Edoardo Bresolin, Michal Solowow and Valeriy Gorban filled positions 11 through to 15, with WRC3 class winner, Jukka Korhonen 30th overall. Qatar M-Sport WRT man Evgeny Novikov was classified 19th, having re-started under Rally 2 today, while Sky Sports F1 analyst Tony Jardine and Skeleton Gold medallist, Amy Williams MBE finished 26th in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX.
The WRC now takes a break, before the 2014 season gets underway - as is traditional - in January with Rallye Monte Carlo.
To view the result for Wales Rally GB 2013 - CLICK HERE