Anyone hoping that a month off active duty in WRC might take the edge of Sebastien Ogier's blistering 2013 race performance will just have to think again, after the Volkswagen Motorsport Polo calmly eased his way to a convincing win in the Neste Oil Rally Finland on Saturday.
"This weekend is just perfect," said Ogier afterwards. "A lot of points for the championship and the win. The key is to have the best approach and to back off a little bit to protect the tyres and the car."
It was Ogier's first win in Finland, but was also his fifth success in 2013 and his 12th win in WRC in total, and it extends his lead in the championship standings over his team mate Jari-Matti Latvala to almost obscene proportions.
Unlike the previous round in Sardinia, Ogier did not dominate the event from the start, but rather played a cooler long game of it. Over the course of the first half of the event he was able to watch his rivals stumble and fall, while Ogier himself simply kept going in an almost serene procession to inevitable success.
Ogier had lost out in qualifying which instead had seen Citroen's Mikko Hirvonen claimed the top spot on Wednesday. Hirvonen had predictably elected to run last and allow others to 'sweep the road' on the first day of action that followed, but even so it was Ogier who went into an immediate lead in the first short run through Himos on Thursday, with his Volkswagen team mate Jari-Matti Latvala immediately taking up second spot.
Latvala came undone in the very next stage, however, when he suffered suspension damage after hitting a rock that forced him out of the running for the rest of the day. That was much to the annoyance of the Finn's boss, Volkswagen Motorsport Director Jost Capito, who described the incident as "a frustrating mistake, which should not have happened." Latvala restarted on Friday under Rally 2 and battled his way to 17th place by the finish.
During this phase Hirvonen had briefly been propelled into the lead ahead of Qatar M-Sport's Mads Ostberg and Qatar WRT's Thierry Neuville, but then strong runs through Koukunmaa put Neuville into the lead in a dead tie with Ogier. The Belgian continued to lead for the rest of the day, and it wasn't until the first run through Jukojarvi on Friday morning that Ostberg was finally able to poke his nose out in front coming out of SS7 as the duo vied with Ogier for control of the event.
As Friday wore on, Neuville suffered a puncture which dropped him back from the lead, while Ostberg also suffered a major setback in the afternoon when he suffered a deflated left front tyre as a result of a broken rim on SS14. That set them both back on the road, with Ogier happy to be handed a comfortable 30 second margin at the front which he proceeded to nurse from there to the end of the rally. As he calmly cruised to the win, Ogier only really let himself go when it came to the two exhilarating Ouninpohja stages on Saturday, and he indulged himself by setting a new stage record of 15m 8.9s in the afternoon run.
While Ogier was walking away with the race, the two Ford drivers were left providing much of the fun and excitement as they scraped over second place throughout the final day. The pair alternated positions with almost every stage as it was clear that there were no team orders holding them back as the two remained neck and neck into the afternoon session. Unfortunately Ostberg's bid for second spot was finally undone by the penultimate stage, the second run through Ouninpohja, which saw the Norwegian go briefly off-road in order to miss hitting a rock, losing almost 20 seconds to Neuville in the process.