◾WRC target in sight: Ogier/Ingrassia with chance to seal title at home in France
◾Last chance saloon: Latvala/Anttila out to prolong title race
◾Bronze up for grabs: Mikkelsen/Fløene home in on third place
Match point on his own serve for one, the other poised ready to return – the eyes of the rallying world will be on two Volkswagen crews at the Rally France (02–05 October). The duel of the year – Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (F/F) against Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN) – will decide the destination of the Drivers' and Co-Drivers' titles over the course of the remaining three rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC). While a victory at their home event, the asphalt rally through Alsace, could theoretically suffice for Ogier/Ingrassia to wrap up the titles with rounds to spare, Latvala/Anttila will be pushing hard for a special win, which would keep their title hopes alive. It is now 15 years since a Finn last won an asphalt rally in the World Rally Championship. And the event in Alsace is still waiting for its first Finnish winner. Behind Ogier/Ingrassia and Latvala/Anttila, who have joined forces to win the Manufacturers' Championship in the World Rally Championship for Volkswagen in both 2013 and 2014, lies their team-mate in third place in the Drivers' Championship: Andreas Mikkelsen (N), with co-driver Ola Fløene (N) at his side in the third Polo R WRC.
'The fans can look forward to another thrilling episode of the duel between the champ and the challenger – Ogier against Latvala,' said Volkswagen Motorsport Director Jost Capito. 'Both have shown recently that they are in a league of their own on asphalt, although they lacked the necessary luck to convert their leads into a win at the Rally Germany. Both are capable of beating each other. Having won the Manufacturers' Championship, we at Volkswagen can now focus fully on this truly extraordinary duel, which has been the story of the season. The Rally France promises to be another highlight of the WRC season. And there is really no need to worry about whether our drivers are hungry for the win.'
What would happen if ...? The WRC maths
Sights set on victory: Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia could complete the successful defence of their title as early as the Rally France. To do so, the French duo must score six points more than their rivals Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila at the rally around Strasbourg. For example, victory and at least second place on the Power Stage would suffice to wrap things up, regardless of other results. In the case of any other combination of results, Ogier/Ingrassia would be dependent on some help from the opposition. As far as Latvala/Anttila are concerned, they must finish ahead of their team-mates in order to extend the title race and keep their chances alive.
Mikkelsen/Fløene in pole position in the race for third place in the World Championship
He may have bowed out of the battle for the Drivers' Championship at the Rally Australia, but Andreas Mikkelsen (N) can already look back on a hugely successful season in the World Rally Championship. Four podiums – runner-up in Sweden and Poland, third in Germany and Australia – and a further four top-five results – Mikkelsen finished fourth in Portugal, Argentina, Italy and Finland – speak for themselves. And this consistency has put the 25-year-old in a great position to possibly seal third place in France. He is currently 41 points ahead of the fourth-placed man in the Drivers' Championship (Mikko Hirvonen, M-Sport Ford), 45 clear of fifth place (Thierry Neuville, Hyundai) and 50 ahead of sixth place (Mads Østberg, Citroën). Should Mikkelsen score at least 14 points more than his closest rival, third place would be his. Despite taking his seat in the World Rally Car from Wolfsburg midway through the season, Mikkelsen's co-driver Ola Fløene also has an excellent chance of taking third place in the Co-Drivers' Championship when he lines up at only his seventh rally in the Polo R WRC in France. The Norwegian is fourth, just two points behind Jarmo Lehtinen, co-driver to Mikko Hirvonen.
A bit of 'Monte', a bit of Germany – typical Rally France
After the Rally Germany, the Rally France forms the second all-asphalt rally on the WRC calendar. Although the only two events run purely on this surface do have their similarities – both feature special stages through vineyards – the Rally France has its own unique characteristics. Fast, flowing forest sections dominate the special stages in Alsace, near the city of Strasbourg. Some damp passages and the crossing of mountain roads are, to a certain degree, reminiscent of the iconic Rally Monte Carlo. The 2014 rally features 18 special stages. Only three of these – 'Vosges–Pays d'Ormont', 'Soultzeren–Le Grand Hohnack' and the 'Strasbourg' street stage, are identical to those used in 2013. In total, roughly half the kilometres against the clock are new territory for the competitors – not a single kilometre will be familiar to them on Sunday. One of the highlights for the thousands of fans is the 'Strasbourg' street stage, which is held after dusk on Friday evening.
Home race for Ogier and Ingrassia – at the scene of their greatest triumph
The Rally France is the home event on the World Championship calendar for Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia. The duo has already triumphed on two occasions at the rally through Alsace, which was held for the first time in this form in 2010 – in 2011 with Citroën and 2013 with Volkswagen. The success 12 months ago tasted particularly sweet: victory on the Power Stage, which formed the start of the 2013 Rally France, earned Ogier/Ingrassia their first World Championship title. The icing on the cake came three days later, when they won the rally itself after a stunning fightback.
Showtime for the team – please welcome the old and the new World Champions*
The final three rounds of the season – in France, Spain and Great Britain – provide the perfect opportunity for Volkswagen to showcase its dominance at rally speed: the Volkswagen team, with Sébastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala at the wheel, wrapped up the title in the Manufacturers' Championship* at the recent Rally Australia. This was the earliest the title had been decided for 25 years.
* Subject to the official publication of the results by the FIA.
Quotes ahead of the Rally France
Sébastien Ogier, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #1
'The home rally is always very special for me. The interest in you as a person is always great than usual there – both from the fans and the media. My goal is to be crowned World Champion in my own country again. To do this, however, I must score six points more than my team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala. A win could be enough. I think Jari-Matti will once again be my fiercest rival. The Rally France is a little bit similar to the Rally Germany. That is to say, there are a few special stages in the vineyards. However, there are also big differences. For example, many more stages are held in the forests. The asphalt can be very wet and slippery there. There are not as many junctions at the Rally France as there are in Germany, and the special stages are generally more flowing and nicer to drive. We have to do our job better this time than at the last asphalt rally in Germany, and finish with both cars.'
Jari-Matti Latvala, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #2
'I have a score to settle with asphalt rallies, as the rally in Germany was disappointing. It was going sensationally well and I was leading, and then everything was over in a flash after my crash. Having come so close in Germany, I am now determined to score my first win on asphalt. Like the Rally Germany, the Rally France is held on asphalt – but you can't really compare the two rallies. We spend a lot more time in the forests and on wider mountain passes in France. In Germany the streets were very narrow and winding. The characteristics of this rally are probably more similar to those of the Rally Monte Carlo. I can still become World Champion this year, but I don't really think that that is a realistic possibility. For that to happen, an awful lot would have to go wrong for Sébastien, whilst everything would have to be perfect for me. One thing is certain, however: as long as there is still a mathematical chance, I will carry on fighting and do my very best. You never know what might happen.'
Andreas Mikkelsen, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #9
'I am looking forward to driving on asphalt again – particularly after we enjoyed such a good Rally Germany recently. Hopefully I can improve again this time. There will be a few new special stages at the Rally France this year. That will be a real challenge. I am looking forward to it though. I really like this rally. My goal is also to seal third place overall in the Drivers' Championship in France. That would give me free rein in Spain and Wales, as I would not have to concern myself with the World Championship situation. My co-driver Ola Fløene is currently fourth in the Co-Driver standings, just two points off third place. It will be an interesting challenge for us, over the remaining rallies, to ensure that he too finishes third in the World Championship.'
Did you know ...
... the Rally France was initially held on Corsica with the 'Tour de Corse' between 1973 and 2008? Alsace has only hosted the Rally France since 2010.
... Volkswagen team member Luís Moya won the Rally France in 1991 as Carlos Sainz's co-driver? In doing so, he and Sainz became the first Spanish duo to win this rally.
... Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila finished third at last year's Rally France to claim one of their 13 podiums so far with Volkswagen?
... Latvala/Anttila have never won a race on asphalt, although they did hold a commanding lead at the Rally Germany in both 2013 and 2014?
... Tommi Makinen was the last Finn to win an all-asphalt rally? He won the 1999 Rally Sanremo at the wheel of a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI.
... of the 38 times the Rally France has featured on the World Championship calendar, 29 have been won by Frenchmen?
... the four WRC events held so far in Alsace have all been won by a Sébastien? Sébastien Loeb won twice (at the inaugural event in 2010 and in 2012), while Sébastien Ogier (2011 and 2013) also has a brace of victories to his name.
... 2014 marks the first time that the two aforementioned Sébastiens will not go head to head at the Rally France? Sébastien Loeb bid farewell to the WRC circus here in 2013.
... the Rally France is often regarded as the twin sister of the Rally Germany? The similarities: each of the three days has its own unique character. Both events are held in the vineyards and in woodland. Furthermore, in recent years, both rallies have featured at least one special stage on a military training ground.
The number for the Rally France: 61.23
The Rally France marks the third time in a row that the teams in the World Rally Championship have had to switch from gravel to asphalt mode. This requires a major adjustment: asphalt demands a far more precise style of driving. The different between asphalt and gravel can also be expressed in figures using the motion sensors on the Polo R WRC. Taking cornering as if on rails as the perfect line, the deviation from this at gravel rallies is 61.23 per cent higher than at asphalt rallies. This is caused by more drifting and greater under/oversteer.