Sébastien Ogier completed a Wales Rally GB hat-trick after conquering some of the most challenging conditions the event has ever seen. Storm Abigail was the remnants of Hurricane Kate, which left gale force winds and driving rain battering Britain’s concluding round of the 2015 FIA World Rally Championship in north Wales. However that didn’t deter the thousands of hardy fans who lined the legendary forest stages throughout, as organisers performed miracles to keep the show on the road with the assistance of many volunteer marshals.
Befitting his triple World Champion status, Ogier led from the start. An early threat from Volkswagen Motorsport team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala evaporated on only the second stage – the short blast through Sweet Lamb – leaving home hero Kris Meeke to take up the chase.
Behind the wheel of his Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team DS3 WRC, Meeke kept Ogier firmly within sight over the course of the opening day – comprising double passes of the two longest tests of the rally in Hafren and Myherin – and returned to the evening service halt in Deeside just 13.5 seconds adrift. The Northern Irishman continued to push hard on Saturday’s classic Rally GB stages, including demanding after-dark blasts through Dyfnant and Aberhirnant.
His primary objective was to secure the runner-up spoils for Citroën in the final manufacturers’ classification. However with Ogier having an answer every time Meeke looked like closing the gap, his pursuer wisely decided that on this occasion, discretion was the better part of valour.
Ogier paced himself through Sunday’s four blustery stages to maintain a winning run on Wales Rally GB that began in 2013. At the end of the final Brenig Power Stage, the Frenchman and co-driver Julien Ingrassia unfurled a Tricolore flag and draped it over the bonnet of their Polo R WRC out of respect for the tragic events in Paris.
The WRC community subsequently gathered for a podium ceremony marked by a minute’s silence, after which an emotional Ogier dedicated his triumph to the victims of Friday night’s terrorist attacks.
“It’s been a very difficult weekend with the events elsewhere,” acknowledged the 31-year-old. “Mentally, it wasn’t easy to continue after what happened on Friday in France, but in these situations, you have to carry on even stronger than before and remain united. Now is not the time to celebrate and it’s not easy for me to find the right words to say at the moment, but as a small sign of support, I want to dedicate this victory to the memory of all those who lost their lives and everybody else affected by these tragic events.”
Meeke’s speed, flair and consistency earned the Ulsterman a thoroughly well-deserved third podium finish of the campaign and in so doing ended a 14-year drought since a British driver last reached the rostrum on home turf. The 36-year-old mounted the Ceremonial Finish ramp to rapturous applause.
“This was probably my strongest performance to date,” he contended. “It was a better drive than when I won in Argentina earlier this year. It was obviously a tough rally, but we established a really good set-up for the car, settled into a good rhythm and I felt very comfortable.”
“We did the job we set out to do and ticked both boxes with the podium and second place for Citroën in the manufacturers’ standings. This is also my first second place in the WRC, and it’s nice to score it this weekend, 20 years on from Colin McRae’s famous victory. His spirit can always be felt at Rally GB, right down to the people out on the stages bearing Scottish flags.
“To be the first British driver to finish on the podium here in 14 years is fantastic for me and for all the loyal fans. Their support in this weather has been incredible, so hats off to them.”
Despite missing the pre-event Shakedown, Andreas Mikkelsen secured Volkswagens presence on the rostrum with a strong run to third position to consolidate the same spot in the final drivers’ table, as he concluded an impressive season that has yielded no fewer than nine top three finishes from 13 starts.
Behind the Norwegian, a titanic tussle raged for fourth place for much of the rally between Mads Østberg, Elfyn Evans, Dani Sordo, Ott Tänak, Hayden Paddon and Thierry Neuville – and each of them would encounter dramas along the way.
The first to fall was Neuville, who removed a wheel from his Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC a third of the way into the first passage through Myherin. The Belgian would subsequently do rather more significant damage on day two with a dramatic roll in Dyfnant – albeit not before winning back-to-back stages.
Next to run into trouble was local favourite Evans, whose hopes were hit by a puncture on Hafren 2 that cost the young Welshman more than a minute. After recovering from an early hairpin stall the next day, the M-Sport World Rally Team star gave the rain-lashed spectators plenty of reason to cheer with a string of stellar top five stage times behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
Paddon experienced hydraulic issues in his Hyundai, whilst a puncture for Østberg on Dyfi 1 was compounded by a mistake on the first run through Dyfnant later the same day that left his Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team DS3 WRC briefly beached in a ditch.
Sordo battled against gearbox troubles and a minor ‘off’ in Dyfi 2, whilst Tänak – who looked to be on-course for an excellent fourth position despite a high-speed spin – saw his bid brought to a premature conclusion on Alwen on Sunday morning, as an accident damaged the left rear of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
That meant that through it all came Sordo – not renowned as a loose-surface specialist – to clinch fourth place following a very solid performance in which he held his own throughout. Paddon was not far behind in fifth, with Evans sixth and Østberg seventh. Stéphane Lefebvre (Citroën DS3 WRC), ex-Formula 1 star Robert Kubica (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) and Lorenzo Bertelli (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) completed the top ten finishers. Power Stage points went to the much delayed Latvala, Mikkelsen and Kubica.
“We had a really good feeling in the car this weekend, so it was a shame about the puncture on Friday – that made it a case of what might have been,” reflected Evans. “It’s been a difficult rally with very changeable grip levels, especially on Saturday when it rained pretty hard – but that’s all part of the challenge of Wales Rally GB and the unique character of the event.
“Historically, this has always been a tough rally from a weather point of view, but even allowing for that, I’d say conditions were some of the trickiest I’ve come across.
“The stages held up really well and the organisers did a great job to make it such a successful event; it’s not easy to run a rally in this kind of weather, but they did so without any problems so all credit to them. I also need to say a massive thank you to the fans and the marshals for staying out there – to see so many people on the stages so close to home was fantastic.”
David Higgins dominated the Production and non-priority categories in his Group N Subaru WRX STI, as he wowed fans throughout the weekend in his car bearing a livery that paid tribute to the 20th anniversary of the late Colin McRae’s title triumph.
2015 Wales Rally GB – Final Classification
1. Sébastien Ogier (FRA) VW Polo R WRC 3h 03m 02.0s
2. Kris Meeke (GBR) Citroën DS3 WRC +26.0s
3. Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR) VW Polo R WRC +36.2s
4. Dani Sordo (SPA) Hyundai i20 WRC +2m 51.3s
5. Hayden Paddon (NZL) Hyundai i20 WRC +3m 00.5s
6. Elfyn Evans (GBR) Ford Fiesta RS WRC +3m 09.1s
7. Mads Østberg (NOR) Citroën DS3 WRC +4m 28.4s
8. Stéphane Lefebvre (FRA) Citroën DS3 WRC +5m 38.4s
9. Robert Kubica (POL) Ford Fiesta RS WRC +6m 22.7s
10. Lorenzo Bertelli (ITA) Ford Fiesta RS WRC +8m 05.0s