Latvala sneaks ahead in French thriller

Top four almost tied with only Sunday’s final stages to go but there’s heartache for Neuville.
By Carl McKellar

Rally de France looks set to produce the most thrilling finish to a round of the World Rally Championship this season on Sunday after the top four drivers – headed by VW’s Jari-Matti Latvala – went into Saturday’s overnight halt covered by just five seconds.

Latvala grabbed the lead by a mere 0.4 seconds from Citroen’s Dani Sordo on Saturday’s final stage, the 4.65km test through the streets of Mulhouse.

However, fastest on that stage was VW’s newly crowned World Champion Sebastien Ogier to move to within 1.5 seconds of leader Latvala.

Citroen’s retiring nine-times World champ Sebastien Loeb was only a further 3.5 seconds adrift as he seeks a victory on his final WRC appearance.

After more than 255kms so far, it means a dynamite four-way showdown on Sunday’s closing six stages. Totalling 56.6kms they will start at 9.20am local time and end in Loeb’s home town of Haguenau, just north of host city Strasbourg.

Thierry Neuville should also have been in the fight. The Belgian confidently led the event until Saturday afternoon’s first stage when his M-Sport Ford Fiesta slowed with a punctured tyre – a cruel way to end his hopes of a maiden WRC rally win. Heading into Sunday’s stages he has fallen to fifth, more than a minute behind the four drivers ahead of him.

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