With Sebastien Ogier having already secured his second consecutive WRC drivers’ championship at the penultimate round of the season, the final event of the season, Wales Rally GB, on paper seemed irrelevant. However the stages in the Welsh Forests, which for this season has moved further up North, can throw up drama in the unlikeliest of places.
The opening day of action saw the drivers tackle eight stages including the Hafren Sweet Lamb stage, which has been a fixture on the event for the past few years. As has been the case for the whole of the season, the three Volkswagen cars quickly stormed ahead of the field on the opening stage, with Ogier the leader to no-one’s great surprise. However on Stage 2 the similar car of Andreas Mikkelsen went too fast over a crest and smashed the front-right of his car on a bank, unfortunately forcing him to retire after the stage, throwing away his 2nd place in the process. He wasn’t the only Scandinavian in trouble; Juho Hanninen crashed out on the following stage whilst in the points.
With Mikkelsen out for the day, his team-mates quickly pulled out a lead of over a minute over their nearest rivals, with Ogier leading Jari-Matti Latvala by just 6.6 seconds at the close of Day 1. Mikko Hirvonen, who had announced his retirement from the sport after this rally, held a solid third place overnight but was under pressure from the two Citroens of Kris Meeke and Mads Ostberg, themselves just seven tenths of a second apart. Thierry Neuville was the leading Hyundai runner in 6th and the rest of the points-paying places were held by the Fords of Elfyn Evans, Ott Tanak, Henning Solberg and Martin Prokop.
The stage was set on Day 2 for a battle royale between the Volkswagen team-mates but on the first stage of the day disaster struck for Latvala; he got stuck in a ditch and by the time spectators had dragged the car out over three minutes were lost, dropping the Finn down to 10th. That left Ogier in a comfortable position at the front of the pack whilst the battle for what was now 2nd place intensified; Kris Meeke, despite a time penalty, caught up with and overhauled Hirvonen for second place, only for the Ford driver to take the position back on the following stage and hold it until the day’s end. Meeke’s team-mate Ostberg was under attack meanwhile from Neuville, who had closed the gap down to 1.9 seconds. Evans headed up the rest of the top 10, with the recovering Latvala up to 8th. The star driver of the day was Mikkelsen who set the fastest time on five out of the nine stages, but was still over half an hour off the pace following his Day 1 woes.
The final day saw 6 stages to round up the 2014 World Rally Championship, and Ogier backed off in order to not risk making a mistake, thus allowing Hirvonen to close up slightly. However, the newly crowned drivers’ champion was not to be denied and took his 24th rally win, putting him equal with four-time WRC champion Tommi Makinen. Hirvonen though was delighted to take the runner-up spot in his last ever rally, equalling his best result of the season. There was last day drama though for Kris Meeke who was running in a strong 3rd position prior to damaging a tyre, and in order to ensure he had his best tyres on the road section to avoid getting a puncture, which was now illegal, he limped through the remaining stages, finally losing grip on the penultimate stage. Consequently he slipped from 3rd to 6th place, thus elevating his team-mate Ostberg on to the podium for the fourth time this season. Neuville finished off a hugely successful comeback season for the Hyundai team with 4th place, ahead of Evans and the unfortunate Meeke. Jari-Matti Latvala won the powerstage and finished 8th, just behind Ott Tanak, with Prokop and Hyundai’s Hayden Paddon completing the top 10. Henning Solberg retired on stage 20 due to an issue with the fuel tank, whilst Mikkelsen retired for the second time in the weekend. Ex-Formula 1 driver Robert Kubica experienced a relatively quiet rally to finish just outside the points in 11th.
However, the season from start to finish was dominated by Sebastien Ogier and Volkswagen; both had scored more than double the points of the nearest non-Volkswagen challenger. Ostberg’s third place was enough for Citroen to cling on to second place in the Manufacturers’ Championship by just 2 points from Ford, with Hyundai fourth. The 2014 season saw exciting action from start to finish, though doubtless many would hope for a closer-fought battle between the manufacturers when the 2015 World Rally Championship season kicks off at one of the classics, the Monte Carlo Rally.
- Wales Rally GB 2014 Results
|1||S. Ogier||J. Ingrassia||Volkswagen Polo R WRC||3:03:08.2|
|2||M. Hirvonen||J. Lehtinen||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+37.6|
|3||M. Ostberg||J. Andersson||Citroen DS3 WRC||+1:03.6|
|4||T. Neuville||N. Gilsoul||Hyundai i20 WRC||+1:14.9|
|5||E. Evans||D. Barritt||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+1:24.3|
|6||K. Meeke||P. Nagle||Citroen DS3 WRC||+2:03.0|
|7||O. Tanak||R. Molder||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+2:29.7|
|8||J. Latvala||M. Anttila||Volkswagen Polo R WRC||+2:47.5|
|9||M. Prokop||J. Tomanek||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+3:43.3|
|10||H. Paddon||J. Kennard||Hyundai i20 WRC||+3:48.5|
2014 WRC Drivers’ Championship Final Standings
2014 WRC Manufacturers’ Championship Final Standings
|2||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team||210|
|3||M-Sport World Rally Team||208|
|4||Hyundai Shell World Rally Team||187|
|5||Volkswagen Motorsport II||133|
|6||Jipocar Czech National Team||49|
|7||Hyundai Motorsport N||28|
|8||RK M-Sport World Rally Team||26|