Volkswagen extended its lead in all three competitions within the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) on Sardinia. Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (F/F) claimed their fourth win of the season in extremely tough conditions at the Rally Italy. Volkswagen thus remains unbeaten in 2014 and has increased its winning run to ten victories in a row. For long periods of the rally, fans were treated to one of the most thrilling duels of the season: Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN) were for a long time embroiled in a two-car battle with their Volkswagen team-mates Ogier/Ingrassia for stage wins, fractions of a second, and the overall lead before a puncture cost the Finnish pair the lead and saw them drop back into third place. The third duo in the Volkswagen Polo R WRC also impressed with a strong and mature display: Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Fløene (N/N) ended the sixth rally of the season in fourth place.
“Ogier verses Latvala – that was one of the most exciting battles I have seen for a long time,” said Dr. Heinz-Jakob Neußer, Volkswagen Board Member for Technical Development. “I think this duel will continue to provide us with a lot more entertainment over the rest of the season. The entire Volkswagen team did a fantastic job. Thank you to everyone involved in this success.”
Duel of the demon drifters: Ogier vs. Latvala
First verses second – the duel for the lead in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) took centre stage at the start of the Rally Italy. Remaining true to the Volkswagen motto “may the best man win”, which rules out the use of any team orders in the duel for the World Championship, Jari-Matti Latvala moved into the lead on the fifth special stage. Sébastien Ogier won stages of his own to match his team-mate step for step. On Saturday afternoon, the battle between the two Volkswagen drivers, which also formed the story of the previous round in Argentina, came to a head. Just 12.3 seconds separated the two Volkswagen Polo R WRCs with 100 kilometres of the rally remaining. However, a slip-up from Latvala – on the 13th special stage of all places – brought the spectacular duel to a premature end. Latvala hit a rock and damaged a wheel, which he had to replace there and then. While Ogier went on to claim a comfortable 13th win in Volkswagen colours, Latvala remained hot on the heels of Mad Østberg (Citroën) in second place right down to the final Power Stage. Third place was enough to give Latvala/Anttila their 43rd podium finish – and their eleventh in 19 rallies with Volkswagen.
A successful Norwegian reunion: Andreas Mikkelsen and his new, and old, co-driver Ola Fløene enjoyed a fine first outing together, finishing an impressive fourth. This was Mikkelsen’s third fourth place in a row. Mikkelsen/Fløene spent the majority of the Rally Italy in a duel for third place with Mads Østberg/Jonas Andersson (N/S, Citroën) until they hit a rock the size of a wheel in the middle of the road on the twelfth of the 17 stages, resulting in a damaged damper. Over the remaining stages, Mikkelsen/Fløene refrained from taking any unnecessary risks to secure fourth place with a cautious drive.
The Rally Italy proved to be a genuine test of man and machine. Loose sand offered little grip for the early-starters among the World Rally Cars, who had no option but to sweep the racing line clean for the cars behind them. Arriving in Italy in first, second and third place in the World Championship, the regulations required the Volkswagen duos to be the first three cars onto the route. Despite this handicap, the ended the first third of the rally in first, second and fourth. The crews’ physical fitness played a major role: temperatures of 36 degrees in the shade made it particularly hot work in the cockpit. And despite expecting sunshine throughout the entire rally, the weather crew also had their hands full sifting out the correct data to assist with the tyre selection. It became hot unusually quickly in the mornings, with temperatures climbing by up to nine degrees Celsius within just two hours.
The winning run continues: the fourth win of the season for Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia sees Volkswagen add another chapter to an ongoing success story. Starting at the end of the 2013 season, the last ten victories have gone to Wolfsburg. The Polo R WRC now has 16 wins and 28 podiums to its name from 19 outings in the World Championship. However, the World Rally Car from Wolfsburg is not just quick, but also reliable. In the 19 rallies since the Polo R WRC made its first appearance in 2013, the team has not suffered a single retirement as a result of a technical fault. Volkswagen drivers have won 226 of the 343 special stages since last year’s Rally Monte Carlo. By the end of the Rally Italy, the Polo R WRC had accounted for 521 of the 953 possible top-three times.
A lot of work and little sleep – the sixth round of the World Rally Championship was a real physical challenge for the service crews. Despite this, the guys watching the Volkswagen duos’ backs still produced their usual flawless and reliable performance in the eight services. The mechanics also spent several hours trekking across the country roads of Sardinia to get to the 15-minute midday service on Friday, which was located in Buddusò, 120 kilometres from the Service Park in Alghero. The long liaison stages not only meant the service crews were already hard at work at six in the morning, but also well into the night from nine in the evening. During the flexi-services, the three Polo R WRCS are each maintained for 45 minutes, one after another, before they are taken to Parc Fermé.
For the first time in the history of the Polo R WRC in the World Rally Championship, every single bonus point up for grabs on the Power Stage went to the Wolfsburg-based manufacturer. Andreas Mikkelsen was fastest to pick up three bonus points for the first time. Second place meant a further two points for Jari-Matti Latvala, while Sébastien Ogier was third to score one extra point. In 18 Power Stages, Volkswagen drivers have picked up bonus points on 32 occasions. The Power Stage result in Italy was also the 25th time that the three Polo R WRCS had finished one-two-three on a special stage. On a side note: Mikkelsen’s fastest time on the Power Stage was the 24-year-old’s only stage win at the Rally Italy.
“Joker” for Ogier – World Championship lead extended
Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia increased their lead in the Drivers’ and Co-Drivers’ Championship to 33 points with their fourth win of the season – at the same time their fourth podium – and the bonus point from the Power Stage. As such, the defending champion is now guaranteed to end the first half of the season at the top of the WRC standings, regardless of the result at the coming Rally Poland. They can even afford to finish outside the points. Their closest rivals are team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila. And another Volkswagen drivers is right in the thick of the battle for third place in the World Championship: Andreas Mikkelsen is just three points behind Mads Østberg in fourth place.