Sébastien Ogier ended the 2014 WRC season on a winning note after claiming his eighth victory of the year at Wales Rally GB on Sunday.
He mastered the muddy forest tracks to lead the three-day event from start-to-finish in a Volkswagen Polo R, measuring his pace through the final two legs to win by 37.6sec.
Mikko Hirvonen claimed an emotional second place in his final rally before retirement after holding off Kris Meeke in a titanic battle. The pair fought tooth-and-nail until Meeke damaged two tyres after skidding into a ditch this morning and plunged to sixth.
It allowed Mads Østberg to take third in a Citroen DS3, the Norwegian finishing 26.0sec behind Hirvonen’s Fiesta RS.
Ogier fought with team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala through Friday’s opening leg. But when Latvala slid into a ditch and dropped three minutes yesterday morning, Ogier was handed a 70sec lead and throttled back in the treacherous conditions.
“It’s the best way to finish the season and it was my target,” said Ogier. “We started flat-out on Friday and made an incredible day – there was a big difference to everyone else. My rally changed when Jari-Matti made a mistake and I had control and could ease my pace.
“It wasn’t the most fun way to drive, but in the slippery conditions I had to do it. It was the best way to get the win,” he added.
Hirvonen, Meeke and Østberg traded places as they fought for second. A 10sec time penalty for arriving late at a time control and a delaminated tyre cost Østberg valuable time on Saturday and left his rivals to duel for position.
Meeke pushed so hard he damaged two tyres after ditching his DS3 in Sunday’s opening stage. The Northern Irishman continued at unabated speed but, with just one spare onboard, he lost more than 90sec in the final two tests as the tyres cried enough.
“I couldn’t have planned a better way to end my career,” said Hirvonen. “It was a fantastic fight all weekend, one of the most enjoyable of my career. It was an amazing weekend and I’m looking forward to keeping all my memories from the last 13 years and taking them home with me.”
Results Wales Rally GB
1. S. Ogier, 2. M. Hirvonen, 3. M. Ostberg, 4. T. Neuville, 5. E. Evans, 6. K. Meeke, 7. O. Tanak, 8. J. Latvala, 9. M. Prokop, 10. H. Paddon