GAP, France: Triple world champion Sebastien Ogier eased closer to a fourth Monte Carlo Rally title on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) as his rivals faltered in spectacular fashion with teammate Jari-Matti Latvala accidentally mowing down a spectator.
French driver Ogier, behind the wheel of a Volkswagen Polo, will go into Sunday’s (Monday in Manila) final day with the best part of a two-minute lead over Norwegian teammate Andreas Mikkelsen.
Hyundai’s Belgian driver Thierry Neuville is third, with 2 minutes and 12.2 seconds off the lead.
It was a miserable day in the Alps for fellow VW driver Latvala and Citroen’s Kris Meeke who had been placed second behind Ogier on Friday (Saturday in Manila).
Latvala retired from the race with a broken suspension after planting his car in a water-filled ditch on the 11th stage.
Although the Finn managed to repair the damage, he was eventually forced to withdraw after realizing he would not be able to make the start of the 12th stage in time.
That was not the end of his problems, however, as footage soon emerged of him accidentally crashing into a spectator as he exited the ditch before continuing on his way.
The fan did not appear to be injured although the incident became an instant Internet hit.
“I am sorry for what happened. I didn’t see anything due to the smoke coming out of the engine and the mud on the windscreen after we came out of the ditch,” said Latvala.
“The team called me to tell me what had happened. I saw a spectator to the side and I gently drove back onto the road,” he added.
Meeke retired his Citroen on the 12th stage after damaging his gearbox when he too slipped off the track.
“It’s a shame for Kris as he was very fast this weekend and we had to produce a big performance to stay ahead of him,” said Ogier, who captured just one of the day’s five stages in the tricky muddy, icy conditions.
“It was an exciting fight. Now it’s a different rally for me, I just have to concentrate on getting to the finish,” he added.
Ogier’s astute tactics also paid dividends, driving with two studded tires for better grip, especially on the tough descents.
Meeke had cut the gap on Ogier to just 26.8 seconds when he claimed the 11th stage.