Defending world champion Sebastien Ogier has secured his fourth victory of the 2015 WRC season, finishing this past weekend’s dusty four-day event more than three minutes ahead of the second place finisher, New Zealander Hayden Paddon. In third was Belgian driver Thierry Neuville, who completed the event almost four-and-a-half minutes behind the Frenchman.

Despite seeing a comfortable lead by the end of Sunday’s stages, Paddon gave the world champion a solid two-day fight, leading the rally outright in his 2014 Hyundai i20 for 15 stages. However, Ogier managed to overcome his appointed gravel-sweeping duties, eventually overtaking Paddon when the Kiwi had a spin that resulted in damage to his gearbox.

However, Paddon’s second place finish was undoubtedly the story of the rally, as the weekend saw him become the first New Zealander to lead a WRC event outside his home country. What’s more, the result is Paddon’s best career finish, with 2015 being his first full season at the top echelon of rally racing.

Further back, Neuville managed to claw his way onto the podium Sunday morning when Citroen-driver Mads Ostberg had an off that damaged the brakes on his 2013 Citroen DS 3. Ostberg eventually settled for fifth behind Ford’s Elfyn Evans, while Jari-Matti Latvala came sixth in his 2015 Volkswagen Polo R, just 16.6 seconds shy of Ostberg. You can check out the rally’s highlights on the WRC official YouTube channel here.

Ogier currently leads the championship by 66 points over Ostberg, while Norway’s Andreas Mikkelsen sits three points down from Ostberg in third. Latvala and Evans complete the top five positions. In the manufacturer’s chase, Volkswagen leads with 179 points, Citroen is in second with 115 points, and Hyundai is in third with 113 points.

Seven of 13 rounds remain in the 2015 WRC season. Up next, the championship heads to the fast, grass-lined gravel roads of Rally Poland, July 2nd through 5th.

Continue reading for the full story.

The 2015 season so far

Anyone following WRC this year shouldn’t be surprised to see Ogier back at the top spot of the podium. The VW driver is well on his way to a three-time back-to-back championship streak, with his results in Italy netting not only the 25 points awarded for the rally win, but three additional points for winning the final power stage. That effectively puts Ogier’s standings in the driver’s championship at double the points of his next closest rival.

“I didn’t expect this kind of result here,” Ogier said. “It was very difficult to open the road but the times got better and better. Everything was perfect all weekend, from the car to the weather forecasts.”

The rally was by no measure an easy one, with a variety of potential weekend-ending hazards requiring a great deal of consistency and calm.

The rally was by no measure an easy one, with a variety of potential weekend-ending hazards requiring a great deal of consistency and calm. Adding to the high attrition rate were crashes from several highly experienced drivers, including Kris Meeke, Robert Kubica, and Dani Sordo, all of whom met the blunt side of the Italian countryside.

That makes Paddon’s second place finish all the more impressive, with the Kiwi displaying a huge amount of potential. The results even earned praise from the world-champion Ogier, who said, “Paddon has done a great job, very consistent and with great pace all weekend. He deserves his podium.”

After the final stage, Paddon seemed pleased, saying, “Very, very good, very relieved and an amazing result. We had to nurse it through the last few stages today as we still have a small problem with the car, so lucky to get here. It has been a very challenging weekend and a massive thanks to everybody supporting me - at home and at the team. I can’t have wished for anything more from here. There is though much more to come.”

I can’t wait to see what the 28-year-old has in store for future events.

And while Ogier continues to extend his position at the top of the leaderboard, it should be noted that Hyundai’s double-podium proves VW is not infallible. And even with a 66-point lead, neither is Ogier for that matter. The Frenchman was only able to take the lead after a mistake from Paddon opened the door, and with seven rounds left, there’s still the possibility for a run on his points lead.

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