Sebastien Ogier made up for the disappointment of crashing out in Mexico by winning the WRC Rally de Portugal on Sunday for the second year in a row. This time there were no mistakes, with Ogier claiming the lead on the second day and eventually beating his seven-time World Champion teammate Sebastien Loeb by more than half a minute.
After crashing out of Mexico, Ogier was determined to make amends. It looked set to be a battle of the Red Bull-backed Citroens, but the private DS3 of Petter Solberg was already out of contention on Friday afternoon, when he picked up a series of punctures that forced him into retirement.
“What do I have to do?” said the 2003 World Champion. “Sometimes I think that I must be the unluckiest person in the world. Every time there’s something random, but I’ll tell you one thing, I’m never, ever giving up. That’s not what I do.”
Sure enough, he re-joined the following day and went on to set more fastest stage times than anyone else. In the end, he finished sixth, after a huge battle with Kimi Raikkonen on the final day.
“I’m getting there,” said Raikkonen. “I still have a lot to learn about this car and you must remember that this is just my first rally on gravel with it, but we’ve made no mistakes all weekend. Now we just need to go a little bit quicker…”
Punctures also blighted Ford - and inadvertently Sebastien Loeb. Hirvonen had to stop and change a wheel on Saturday, but when he re-joined it was just in front of the seven-time World Champion - who accused him of deliberately blocking.
“It’s very convenient for Ford for this to happen,” fumed Loeb, who lost 30 seconds. “I don’t want to say more, but I’m very unhappy. It’s not sporting.”
Ford, predictably, took a different view. “As far as we’re concerned, Mikko stopped to change the wheel but he was fully back up to speed when he re-joined,” pointed out team principal Malcolm Wilson. “He didn’t do anything wrong and he didn’t hold anybody up.”
“This result has made up for Mexico - this is the perfect reply to the people who doubted me!”
Jari-Matti Latvala also lost time on Saturday with a puncture and a broken driveshaft, but probably his most nervous moment was on Saturday, when he drove past the corner where he went off and barrel-rolled 17 times two years ago. “I drove it with a little more respect this time!” said Latvala. “I realise now that I was probably about 100kph too fast a couple of years ago!”
After Portugal, Ford retains the lead of the manufacturers’ championship but a one-two from Citroen has put the Red Bull team only 10 points behind. “This result has made up for Mexico,” said Ogier. “I had a bit of a hard time then, but this is the perfect reply to the people who doubted me!”
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