Motorsport: Ogier on the cusp of fourth world title

Sebastien Ogier during Day One of the WRC Spain. Photo / Getty Images
Sebastien Ogier during Day One of the WRC Spain. Photo / Getty Images

Sébastien Ogier all but secured his fourth consecutive World Rally Championship title after passing Dani Sordo to lead Rally Spain overnight.

Andreas Mikkelsen, second in the series, crashed to leave Ogier with one hand on the crown. Only Thierry Neuville can deprive him but the Belgian, third in the rally, must claim maximum points and Ogier fail to score for the Frenchman to be denied.

Hayden Paddon and John Kennard are keeping the pressure on their Hyundai Motorsport teammate Neuville.

The Kiwis are now in fourth position, 16.2 seconds behind the Belgians, both crews having benefited from Mikkelsen crashing out of third place.

During the eight all asphalt stages, Paddon continued to push to improve his pace on this rally surface. He finished the day on a high, second quickest in the 2.24km super special stage and just 0.1 seconds off Neuville who took the stage win.

That result was a big deal for the Kiwi " I have struggled with these stages all my life," he said.

"It's been a good day on tarmac today. Okay, we struggled a bit for pace in the morning, but were able to make some changes at lunchtime to increase the pace in the afternoon which put some pressure on for the podium. Now we're in fourth, the gap's about 15-16 seconds to our team-mate Thierry.

"When you're trying to chase down someone like him on tarmac it's a bit of mountain to climb. But we're close and we certainly won't give up.

"We'll do some more homework tonight and make some more changes and try and keep the pressure on tomorrow. Still a long way to go."

Ogier dented Sordo's dream of becoming the first Spaniard to win his home rally for 21 years by ending the penultimate leg of the four-day mixed surface event with a 5.8sec lead in his Volkswagen Polo R. Neuville was a further 58.1sec behind in a Hyundai i20.

The day was hot and sunny, in contrast to yesterday's torrential rain. The special stages were different too, the mud-caked gravel tracks replaced by fast, wide and smooth asphalt.

Initially Sordo defended his 17.0sec lead in his Hyundai i20, but Ogier trimmed it to 7.7sec by mid-leg service with two stage wins. Three more fastest times followed this afternoon to leave Ogier sitting pretty.

"Dani was strong and very hard to catch," he said. "We managed to come back and had some good times but I knew it would be tough. Sunday will be exciting again and we'll have to continue in the same way tomorrow."

Sordo struggled with understeer and even reduced his pace to try to improve grip. "I'm very disappointed to lose the fight but what can I do?" he questioned.

Mikkelsen was distanced by the leading duo and slipping towards Neuville's clutches when his Polo R drifted into a barrier in a fast right corner before rolling heavily. The Norwegian and co-driver Anders Jaeger were unhurt.

Neuville, like Sordo, was frustrated by his i20's handling. He made set-up changes mid-leg but reverted to settings close to those used this morning when the understeer persisted.

Paddon made it three i20s in the top four. He was 16.1sec behind Neuville and suffering similar handling issues, but finished 37.9sec ahead of Kris Meeke. The Citroën DS 3 driver lost time with a puncture and survived a 360 degree fifth-gear spin which ripped off his car's front bumper.

- NZ Herald

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