WRC: Rally Sweden sees Volkswagen back on top
Breath-taking action right down to the final few metres: Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia won the Rally Sweden. The French Volkswagen duo came through to defeat Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (F/F, Hyundai) and their Volkswagen team-mates Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Fløene (N/N) in the closest three-way battle in the history of the World Rally Championship. This three-car thriller had gathered momentum right through to just a few kilometres from the finish, with the lead changing hands regularly until the three protagonists went into the final showdown separated by just 4.6 seconds.
This was WRC victory number 26 for Sébastien Ogier, who drew level with the legendary Carlos Sainz. Ogier is now third in the list of all-time greats. Furthermore, Ogier/Ingrassia are the only central European duo to have won the Rally Sweden twice. For Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Fløene, third place meant a second podium in a row at the Rally Sweden. They actually led the double world champions until a few hundred metres from the finish, producing a stunning performance that pushed their more illustrious team-mates all the way.
Thriller: Mikkelsen, Ogier and Neuville take it right down to the wire
4.6 seconds – that is the equivalent of just 162.84 metres – was all that separated the first three drivers going into the closing Power Stage. It doesn’t get any more exciting than this. Eventually, the final 15.84 of the total 308 kilometres against the clock ultimately decided who would stand on the top step of the podium, and who would have to settle for the bottom step. The three-way battle between Andreas Mikkelsen, Sébastien Ogier and Thierry Neuville had picked up speed throughout the entire rally. Never in the history of rallying have three drivers been so closely bunched going into the final special stage of a rally.
The decisive scene came just a few hundred metres from the finish: Sébastien Ogier had secured the stage win on the final 16-kilometre special stage, and thus ensured that Volkswagen would emerge triumphant again. However, it was Andreas Mikkelsen who led the Rally Sweden at the final split – his slender lead stood at 2.7 seconds with just 5.37 kilometres remaining. However, a slight skid and the resulting spin dashed Andreas Mikkelsen’s hopes of a maiden WRC victory. Thankfully the Norwegian was still able to rescue a second successive podium. Roughly 40 seconds after their spin, Mikkelsen/Fløene were back on the road and hurtling towards third place at the Rally Sweden.
Three out of three: third Rally Sweden, third Volkswagen winner
Sébastien Ogier in 2013, Jari-Matti Latvala in 2014 and now Sébastien Ogier again – the Rally Sweden marks the very first rally on the WRC calendar that Volkswagen has won three times with the Polo R WRC. This was Volkswagen’s 24th victory in its 28th rally, and podiums 45 and 46 since the Polo R WRC made its debut in January 2013. Since then, the World Rally Car from Wolfsburg has claimed 361 of a possible 521 stage wins. Taking into account the victory in the Ivory Coast back in 1987, courtesy of Kenneth Eriksson/Peter Diekmann (S/D), Volkswagen has now passed Audi into eighth place in the all-time list with 25 victories.
#WinterThunderland – great conditions for rallying in Sweden
Plenty of ice and snow, a picturesque winter wonderland, and ideal conditions: the Rally Sweden was the perfect winter rally. Heavy snowfalls prior to the second round of the World Rally Championship had created very good conditions – including metre-high snow banks lining the roads, which the drivers ‘bounce’ their World Rally Cars off to save time. A strategy not without risks: anyone hitting the snowbanks too hard risks spinning – a typical mistake at the Rally Sweden, and one that virtually all of the top drivers fell foul of at least once over the course of the 308 kilometres of special stage.
Points and Power Stage – three bonus points for Sébastien Ogier
Forget the bonus points up for grabs on the Power Stage, so as to safely secure the victory or podium finish? Not at the 2015 Rally Sweden. In the shadows of the most exciting WRC finale of all time, a thrilling battle for the bonus points awarded to the fastest three cars on the closing Power Stage was also developing. In the end it was the double world champion who came out on top in both categories and leaves Sweden with three extra points to his name. For Volkswagen, this was the 20th time in 27 Power Stages that one of the Wolfsburg works drivers picked up the maximum haul of points.
Voluntary retreat: Latvala/Anttila call time on their Rally Sweden
After their set-back on Thursday, last year’s winners Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila ended the Rally Sweden empty-handed, and so made a joint decision with the team to bring their rally to a premature end after the closing Power Stage. The background to this decision is a rule, which is intended to restrict the specification of certain car components. For Latvala/Anttila, the rallies in Sweden, Mexico and Argentina would have been linked together. Their withdrawal now gives them greater freedom when selecting components and the set-up of their Polo R WRC.
Quotes after day three of the Rally Sweden
Sébastien Ogier, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #1
“An unbelievable finale. I am incredibly proud of this win. It is certainly one of my best. The first victory in Sweden two years ago, when I beat Sébastien Loeb, was fantastic, but this was even harder-fought. Julien and I gave everything here, from day one right through to the Power Stage. We drove as hard as possible, and it paid off in the end. It was certainly one of the most thrilling and exciting ends to a rally – not just for the fans, but also of my career. I obviously feel sorry for Andreas, who came so close to his first win and was involved in an extremely intense battle with us. However, I am sure that this is not the last time we will be duelling for victory. He and Thierry Neuville produced impressive performances.”
Jari-Matti Latvala, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #2
“What a crazy week. It is a shame for my team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen that he was not quite able to get his first WRC victory under his belt. And congratulations to Sébastien Ogier. He really earned his 28 points. For me personally, I have to try to take positives out of the week. Once I made that mistake on Friday, I was obviously not going to have a say in the outcome of the rally. This gave me time to try out a few things with the set-up, and I learned some knew and important things as a result. I now understand the new Polo even better, and that was already noticeable today. The season is still young, and there is still everything to play for. My starting position will certainly be an advantage in Mexico, and I will attack again there.”
Andreas Mikkelsen, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #9
“We did our utmost right up until the final metre – but unfortunately lost out in the end. I never dreamed that I might one day be disappointed with a podium finish. After all, I have not won all that much yet in my career. However, I had the chance to clinch my maiden WRC victory and came very close to doing so. But I made a slight mistake, spun, and missed out on this opportunity. That is very bitter and very disappointing at the moment, although we can be proud of what we have achieved over the course of the week. However, I am certain that it is only a matter of time until I get my first win. Having said that, I would have loved to have come out on top in this thrilling three-way battle. We will now do our very best to put ourselves back in contention again in Mexico.”
Jost Capito, Volkswagen Motorsport Director
“What an exciting rally. I am sure that the World Rally Championship has won a lot of fans around the world this week. Today, the podium positions were genuinely decided in the final metres. Andreas Mikkelsen led until the final split, and came within a whisker of his first victory in the World Championship. He really pushed our double world champion Sébastien Ogier and his friend Thierry Neuville to the limit and can be proud of his performance. His time will come sooner or later, there is no doubting that. Sébastien Ogier produced an incredibly impressive display, particularly from a mental point of view, and fully deserved to win in the end. I take my hat off to the drivers and co-drivers.”