Volkswagen's Sebastien Ogier has won Rally Poland to strengthen his position in the 2014 WRC Drivers' Championship.
It was Ogier's fifth win of the season - and 21st of his WRC career - and means Volkswagen has now won 11 events on the trot.
Ogier began the final day with a commanding lead, over a minute up on Andreas Mikkelsen and that allowed the Frenchman to cruise through Sunday's final four stages – although he did go for it in the Power Stage, taking the maximum three bonus points and his tenth stage win of the event.
“I think it was the perfect weekend for me. I am really happy - victory and a good step for the championship [too],” said Ogier, who increases his lead from 33 points to 50. “The stages were good fun and high speed. I really enjoyed my Polo R WRC here.”
It wasn't until Saturday, however that Ogier began to pull clear of Mikkelsen, with the Norwegian right up with him on Thursday and Friday, as the two traded fastest times and the lead yo-yoed between them – although admittedly Ogier was handicapped somewhat early on due to his road position.
On SS12 though, Mikkelsen made a mistake and lost around 10 seconds. That affected his rhythm and he steadily dropped further and further back in the subsequent tests, until brake issues in the final 'proper' test on Saturday – when he lost over 30 seconds - put it beyond doubt.
“It has been a great weekend for me,” said Mikkelsen. “I really enjoyed the stages. We battled hard with Seb. It was a shame we lost time yesterday – with the brakes and a mistake from me, but still a very positive weekend.”
Thierry Neuville meanwhile took the final podium spot for Hyundai, and the second for the new i20 WRC in its debut year: “I am quite pleased. We struggled with the brakes a bit on the first two days. But the team has done a great job.”
Behind, Mikko Hirvonen held on to take fourth - just, although he struggled for most of the event as he wasn't happy with his pace-notes.
“It was a tough struggle this weekend,” admitted the M-Sport man. “I have never had so much trouble with my pace-notes but the final position wasn't too bad."
Jari-Matti Lavala completed the top five, but lost time on Saturday after damaging the front suspension on his Polo R WRC when he hit a rock in SS14. That cost him over 1.5 minutes in the following test, but he charged back to take good points and keep his championship hopes alive, missing out on P4 in the end by just 0.7 seconds.
Juho Hanninen was next up and sixth, slipping back on Saturday on the repeat loop due to some steering issues. He had a big moment in the final test, but played it down: “It was just a little slide...” he remarked.
Further back, Kris Meeke brought his Citroen home in seventh. The Brit had run third early on, but slipped back on Friday in the Lithuanian tests before a puncture in SS14 on Saturday saw him lose over 2 minutes. He fought back on Sunday though overhauling Hayden Paddon and Henning Solberg.
Paddon and Solberg took eighth and ninth respectively with Martin Prokop tenth to score the final point.
WRC2 class winner Ott Tanak was just outside the top ten in P11, after a dominant performance in the support class. He won 17 of the 22 stages, and in the end beat his Drive DMACK Ford Fiesta R5 team-mate Jari Ketomaa by over 1.5 minutes. Yazeed Al-Rajhi completed the WRC2 podium.
In WRC3, Stephane Lefebvre took the honours, just over 2 minutes up on Alistair Fisher. Quentin Giordano was third.
As for retirements, Mads Ostberg was the most notable – crashing out on Saturday in SS14 when he hit a rock and rolled his Citroen DS3 WRC car.
Elfyn Evans also went out on Saturday after hitting the same rock in SS14 and damaging a lower front suspension link. He was able to re-join though on Sunday under Rally 2 and got to the finish, albeit way outside the top 20.
Former F1 driver Robert Kubica also finished under Rally 2 in front of his home fans after he knocked off a wheel in SS17. The Pole had been running sixth. He was classified 20th under Rally 2.
The 2014 FIA World Rally Championship now has a bit of a break, before continuing with Rally Finland at the end of next month (July 31 to August 3).
To view the result for Rally Poland 2014 - CLICK HERE