Ogier takes brilliant victory on J-WRC debut
On his debut WRC rally, Frenchman Sébastien Ogier (Citroën) and co-driver Julien Ingrassia made a stunning start to their J-WRC season by scoring their first J-WRC victory on the opening round of the 2008 FIA Junior World Rally Championship, Corona Rally México. Ogier also matches the best ever result for a J-WRC driver by finishing ninth in the overall classification of the rally. One minute 31 seconds adrift of the victor was Jaan Molder (EE, Suzuki) who won the battle for second over Michal Kosciuszko (POL, Suzuki) who finished third.

On only his third year rallying, FFSA-trained driver Ogier impressed from day one as he won all but one of the stages on the first day, surprising even himself. Kosciuszko stayed close behind on the first stage but Patrik Sandell (S, Renault) and Mölder soon stepped up their pace. Unfortunately for Sandell, brake problems on SS4 started a downhill slope; he repaired a damaged calliper on the road section and plugged the brake pipe but despite refilling the car with brake fluid, his Clio lost it all after only 500m into SS5. To add insult to injury, he also had a puncture to contend with. By the end of the stage neither his foot brake nor handbrake was working and by the time they reached the service park, co-driver Emil [Axelsson] had to jump out the car to help stop it. So by the end of the day Mölder and Kosciuszko had settled into second and third and Sandell dropped to fifth.

The second day saw the fast Frenchman hold on to the lead. With nothing to lose, Sandell pushed as hard as he could and won four of the day’s eight stages. With Ogier steadily increasing his lead, the battle to watch was the one for second as Kosciuszko upped his game, taking 20 seconds out of Mölder on SS10 alone and seeing the Pole adopt second spot for a while. But the afternoon proved a lot more difficult for him as he caused some damage taking a jump in SS11 flat out and he had to contend with an overheating engine in SS13, reducing his Swift’s power by about 30%. During this time, Mölder took hold of second again, despite bending his front left steering arm on SS13.

Behind them, Aaron Burkart (D, Citroën) was busy defending his fourth place. He struggled with traction on the first day and then lost concentration after swerving to avoid a dog on SS2. Suspension changes improved things for the afternoon as did a slight change in his driving style; he decided to simply follow the driving line rather than use his own line and his times seemed to improve. After a string of stage wins, Sandell took fourth place from Burkart temporarily on SS11 but a puncture on SS12 saw the Swede drop time again, and a great stage time for Burkart saw him re-adopt fourth place.

Burkart’s afternoon wasn’t without drama however, as a heavy landing after a jump on SS14 saw his door open and anattempt to shut it again saw it actually fall off its hinges, held on only by the strap. So he had to continue with his door dragging on the ground; every time he went around a left-hand corner the car filled with dust making visibility somewhat challenging. But he defended his fourth place to the finish on the final day and 2006 J-WRC Champion Sandell stayed out of trouble on day three to eventually take four points for fifth.

Shaun Gallagher (IRL, Citroën) suffered with an upset stomach on the first day of the event and even had to stop on SS1 to ‘regroup’ himself momentarily. Unfortunately he was left quite weak from it and even on day two he said he had lost his ‘buzz’, depleting him of any energy or fighting spirit. But he started to improve by the afternoon of the second day when he said began to enjoy the stages. Unfortunately, a puncture on SS14 say him drop time changing it, but the 2007 Rookie Classification winner happily finished in sixth, despite a 30 minute penalty applied after the event for a breach of the regulations. The result is his best J-WRC finish to date.

Francesco Fanari’s (I) Citroën C2-R2 struggled with a lack of power on the morning of the first day as a result of the high altitude, although things improved a little in the afternoon. On his J-WRC debut and only his second WRC start, he focused on his style, notes and approach on SS9, pleased with the result but SS10 proved very difficult and they were passed by a chasing Group N car in the stage. Progress was made even more difficult as third gear broke during the next stage and the duo decided to stop for the day to change the gearbox and make repairs during the afternoon, in order to restart for the final day to reach the finish. As the only rookies registered on this rally, the Italian’s aim was to simply finish the rally to score maximum points for the classification, which they achieved, despite completing the final stages with a broken driveshaft. In the J-WRC classification he took the final point for eighth.

Martin Prokop (CZ, Citroën) had a really difficult rally as only eight kilometres into SS1 he braked too late and rolled two times. With the help of spectators, it took over seven minutes to get his C2 back on the road, and Prokop’s team had their work cut out for them during the midday service as they had to repair a damaged radiator and two destroyed rear windows. To make things a little harder, he had an engine sensor problem to deal with on SS4 that afternoon, which saw him incur penalties for not completing the day’s remaining stages. Day two started well but by SS12 the crankshaft sensor broke again; the Czech crew changed it mid-stage but it cost them 20 minutes in the process. By day three Prokop’s aim was simply to finish and take his two points and as much experience as possible away from Mexico.

Sandell’s Interspeed team-mate Milos Komljenovic (SCG, Renault) started well, overcoming the distractions of former JWRC champion Dani Sordo on the side of the road in SS1 and Rautenbach in a similar position facing the wrong direction in SS3. Unfortunately the Serbian hit a large rock in the middle of SS5 which completely destroyed his engine, forcing him into retirement while lying in seventh.

1st – Sébastien Ogier, Citroën C2 S1600:
“I’m very happy for our first race. When we arrived here I didn’t think we would win but this is a really good start for the season and I want to thank Citroen, the FFSA and PH Sport for helping us get this win. From when I started rallying I have been watching on-boards from Sébastien Loeb and I’ve developed a note system very similar which seems to be working very well for us. But this is the longest rally we have ever done so it’s a lot harder than we have experienced before. Now is the hardest bit – to stay in first place.”

2nd – Jaan Mölder, Suzuki Swift S1600:
“I’m more or less happy. I think Ogier was a surprise for everybody. Now I just have to analyse where I was losing time to be fastest in the other rallies. But it’s been quite tough and yesterday we were lucky to have even made it to the service park as our sub-frame was completely broken so it was a close call

3rd – Michal Kosciuszko, Suzuki Swift S1600:
“It was really tough and an emotional rollercoaster for me. We gained second yesterday but then lost it and finally we finished third. But that is a very good way to begin our Junior campaign - six points is really precious – and hopefully we’ll be able to do a bit better in Jordan.

Final Leaderboard
1. S Loeb/D Elena 3h33m29.9s
2. C Atkinson/S Prevot +1m06.1s
3. J-M Latvala/M Anttila +1m39.7s
4. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen +3m38.7s
5. H Solberg/C Menkerud +4m57.9s
6. M Wilson/S Martin +6m28.9s
7. F Villagra/J P Companc +19m03.0s
8. R Trivino/C Salom +21m07.9s
9. S Ogier/J Ingrassis +25m00.4s
10. J Molder/F Miclotte +26m35.5s

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