Andreas Mikkelsen had a strong day in his VW Polo

Sébastian Ogier

Volkswagen Motorsport is chasing its first ever WRC 1-2-3 as champion Sébastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala consolidated their places at the top of the order on Saturday. Andreas Mikkelsen topped two stages in his VW Polo R WRC and subsequently closed in on the third placed M-Sport Ford of Thierry Neuville.

Ogier remains on course to end his Wales Rally GB hoodoo as he maintained his lead over team-mate Latvala. Incredibly Ogier has failed to score even a championship point on his previous visits to Britain, but the Frenchman has been in imperious form this week as he looks to round off his dominant championship season in style.

Norwegian Mikkelsen kicked off proceedings by setting the pace at both Gartheiniog and Dyfi, before Latvala returned the favour through the same two runs the second time around. The Finn didn’t stop there, as he completed his hat-trick of stage wins through the 21.34km drive at Dyfnant.

The picturesque setting of Chirk Castle provided the backdrop for the final two short 2.06km stages of the day, where an absolutely huge crowd watched on. This year’s rejuvenated Wales Rally GB is proving more popular than even the organisers’ highest hopes, with people lining the forests throughout the event. The numbers arriving at Chirk surpassed all pre-event expectations and some were unfortunately turned away when the venue reached its capacity.

An absolutely electric atmosphere was created by the large numbers in attendance as the world’s best rally cars blasted by the historical National Trust landmark, and it was Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT driver Dani Sordo who earned initial bragging rights by topping the first run.

Neuville saved his best showing until last, scoring his first stage win of the day after clocking the quickest time in a truncated final run. His relatively low-key display up until that point can be forgiven, however, as the Belgian is focussed on securing the runner-up spot in the 2013 World Rally Championship. “I can be really pleased with our day,” he said. “Second in the championship is important so we need to be sensible.”

Surprisingly champion and Wales Rally GB leader Ogier failed to win any of the day’s seven stages, but the Frenchman’s speed and consistency was enough to peg the gap back to Latvala to 20 seconds. A similar gap now separates Neuville and Mikkelsen in the battle for third, with the latter having taken nearly 15 seconds out of his rival’s advantage over the course of the day.

The young VW driver was arguably the star of Saturday with his stage wins and front running pace during all seven stages, but it remains to be seen whether he can improve on his previous season’s best result of fourth.

“It has been a good day,” he said. “We had a good rhythm with no mistakes –tomorrow we keep pushing. If Neuville doesn’t make a mistake then it will be difficult but we will try.”

While the Volkswagen success story continued there was some disappointment for Citroën and M-Sport. Robert Kubica crashed out for the second time in as many days as he slid wide on a downhill right-hander before his DS3 WRC car toppled off the road and dropped into the trees below. Just a few minutes later Evgeny Novikov ended his day after losing control of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC on the same stage.

Local hero Elfyn Evans stormed clear of the chasing pack in WRC2 today and now holds an advantage of more than a minute over Jari Ketomaa. There was some disappointment for Briton Mark Higgins who struggled with a misfire throughout Saturday, but the veteran remains in contention for a class podium and top ten finish.
“On the whole it has been very good,” said M-Sport Ford’s Evans. “We took it very cautiously but we’ve extended our lead over the course of the day and now we just need to maintain it tomorrow.”

F1 pundit Tony Jardine and Olympic gold medallist Amy Williams MBE continued their incredible Wales Rally GB journey and now lead in class, impressively hauling their Mitsubishi Lancer inside the top 25 overall.

Six stages wrap up Wales Rally GB and indeed the 2013 FIA World Rally Championship tomorrow (17 November), including a Power Stage at Clocaenog, two RallyFest stages at Kinmel Park, before the final stage at the Great Orme brings down the curtain on a sensational WRC season.

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