Rally: Ogier leads in Wales after opening leg

From press release

Sebastien Ogier won two of Thursday’s three stages to lead Wales Rally GB by 3.2sec from Thierry Neuville as cars returned to the rally base in Deeside after a short and sharp opening leg.

Following the start in Conwy, Ogier stamped his authority on the rally by winning the Gwydyr and Penmachno tests in his Volkswagen Polo R. However, Neuville hit back in Clocaenog to post fastest time in his Ford Fiesta RS.

Heavy rain and strong winds on Thursday morning brought testing conditions in qualifying but Ogier was fastest. The Frenchman, wary of just how slippery the gravel tracks in the north Wales forests would be from first in the start order, opted to start second and it paid dividends.

WRC Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Polo-R

Sebastien Ogier, Volkswagen Polo-R WRC. (Photo: WRC)

Neuville flirted with disaster in the opening stage when he slid into a ditch and then hit a huge rock in the second stage which flung his car into the air.

Jari-Matti Latvala was brave enough to opt for first in the running order in his Polo R. The Finn was second fastest in both opening stages but dropped 3.4sec with third fastest in Clocaenog and ended the night 5.2sec behind his team-mate in third.

Mikko Hirvonen is fourth in a Citroen DS3, 16.2sec off the lead. The Finn twice slid wide in the opening test and admitted the lack of a pre-event test hadn’t helped his cause. “The car feels OK, but it could be better, but I’m not sure which way to go with any changes,” he said.

Despite struggling with gearchange issues, Mads Ostberg is fifth in a Fiesta RS and the Norwegian lies 3.1sec ahead of fellow countryman Andreas Mikkelsen. Strong times from Mikkelsen in the first and last stages were offset by a poor second test when he couldn’t absorb all the detail from his pace notes.

Robert Kubica is seventh on his World Rally Car debut, the Pole opting for caution as he comes to terms with a new car, a new co-driver, pace notes in Italian and his first time on slippery gravel stages in the dark.

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