Ogier extends lead in Rally Australia


COFFS HARBOUR, Australia–Sebastien Ogier of France extended his Rally Australia lead on Saturday by winning all four road stages and taking a 42-second advantage over second-place Mikko Hirvonen of Finland, a former three-time champion in Australia.

Ogier, who came into the rally with a 75-point lead and could clinch the World Rally Championship with a victory, has won 12 of 14 stages so far in the rally in his Volkswagen Motorsport with two special stages scheduled for later Saturday.

Northern Ireland’s Kris Meeke was forced to retire when he rolled his Citroen 20 kilometers (12 miles) into the afternoon Nambucca stage. Meeke, fourth overall going into the stage, and co-driver Chris Patterson were not injured.

Earlier in the day, Ogier seemed to be wearing down his closest pursuer.

The first stage Saturday, and 11th overall, was the longest of the rally — 50 kilometers (30 miles). Citroen driver Hirvonen and Ogier were closely matched through much of the stage before Ogier pulled 5.3 seconds clear in the closing section.

“It almost felt like he was playing with us,” Hirvonen said on the WRC website. “Our split times showed we were one second up, then one second down, back and forth like that for most of the stage, and then he pulled three seconds in one split.

“We had a near-miss towards the end and then took it a bit more cautiously. All we can do now is try to keep the pressure on him and see what happens.”

Ogier, who followed Hirvonen through the early stages Saturday, said: “I was not playing with him, but I did try to copy his rhythm and not push too much. That was enough.”

On the second stage of the day, the short Valla route, Jari-Matti Latvala punctured his right rear tire and damaged the front of his Volkswagen. He lost over 15 seconds and slipped back in the standings.