Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia have taken their first victory in the FIA World Rally Championship on the Rally of Portugal. This amazing result puts the crew from the Citroen Junior Team into second place in the Drivers' Championship.
Junior teammates Kimi Raikkonen and Kaj Lindstrom finished in the points for the third consecutive time. Having led the Rally of Portugal since the end of SS3, Ogier and Ingrassia started the third and final day with a 21.1 second cushion over Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena.
The Citroen Junior Team crew was once more faced with the onerous task of being first on the road on the final day. Throughout the opening stages, the #7 Citroen C4 WRC managed to resist the pressure and return to the service park with a 10.1 second advantage over their pursuers. "We tried not to take any stupid risks this morning," said the Frenchman at the midday service halt. "From the start of the rally, we've not had any big moments even though we've been quite close to the limit. We expected to lose time through being first on the road today. Now we're going to try to stay in front again this afternoon, when the road conditions should be less of a disadvantage. We all know what Seb is capable of, but I'm going to be trying my hardest!"
In Felizes 2 (SS16), Ogier was able to more or less match the time set by Loeb, only dropping 0.6 seconds, and he continued in Loule 2 (SS17) by losing only 1.8 seconds.
By the time he got to the final spectator super special stage, the Citroen Junior Team driver still had a lead of 7.7 seconds, allowing him to seal victory over the last two kilometres of the rally in a 30,000 capacity stadium. "We pushed all the way to the end," he said afterwards. "It's a huge satisfaction to win. I have to thank the entire team: this is a massive moment for me. We came very close to winning in New Zealand but now we are on the top step of the podium, which has allowed us to move up to second in the World Rally Championship for drivers." Ex-F1 champion, Kimi Raikkonen continued his progress in Portugal despite a scare at the end of the morning on day three. "We cut a corner and the car went onto two wheels," said Kimi. "We risked rolling, but the car landed back on its wheels and we picked up a puncture. After that, I just wanted to be sure of making the finish. There was nothing more to gain apart from another points finish. All the knowledge we acquired over the weekend will help us to accumulate more experience, which is essential."
For the second time this season, Citroen scored a triple on the rally. Behind Ogier and Ingrassia, the two Citroen Total World Rally Team crews completed the podium. Loeb and Elena finished in second place, increasing their lead in the Drivers' Championship. Thanks to their third place, Dani Sordo and Marc Marti helped the team open a gap over its rivals in the Manufacturers' title chase. Dani Sordo was fourth at the start of the third leg but got back up into third after the first two stages of the day. "I didn't feel at ease in the first stage as there was a lot of dust hanging in the air. In the next one I was able to push hard and I felt good at the wheel. The gap to Petter Solberg was very small and I've got to keep up the same pace to score my first podium finish of the season," said the Spaniard in the service park at midday.
Loeb was again quickest on the second passage through the two gravel stages, but he did not manage to make enough in-roads into Ogier's lead to go for victory, so he just made sure he held on to second place in the super special: "It was a great, evenly-matched fight. We lost a lot of time sweeping the road on the first day. We never gave up pushing to claw back the time lost but we lacked that little bit of extra speed. In hindsight, I think that my driving wasn't aggressive enough. Whatever the case, it was the quickest driver who won today, and our second place is a very positive result as we now have a 38-point lead in the Drivers' Championship."
Thanks to Dani Sordo's third place, Citroen also bagged the full points in the Manufacturers' World Championship, and the gap to the second-placed manufacturer has stretched from 5 to 26 points.
"I'm proud to give this result to the team," said a breathless Sordo after the finish. "We could have been a bit closer to the two Sebastiens, were it not for a few minor problems, but the most important thing was to score the maximum number of points for Citroen. I'm happy to have finished the first half-season on a high note and I can't wait to race in the rallies on asphalt.
1. Ogier / Ingrassia Citroen C4 2:50'48''1
2. Loeb / Elena Citroen C4 +7''9
3. Sordo / Marti Citroen C4 +1'17''6
4. Hirvonen / Lehtinen Ford Focus +1'32''0
5. P. Solberg / Mills Citroen C4 +1'35''7
6. Wilson / Martin Ford Focus +7'10''1
7. Ostberg / Andersson Subaru Impreza +7'28''3
8. Villagra / Perez Companc Ford Focus +10'36''1
9. Al Qassimi / Orr Ford Focus +10'55''8
10. Raikkonen / Lindstrom Citroen C4 +11'34''3...