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Loeb gives C4 first gravel win in Mexico

11 March 2007

Triple world champion, Sebastien Loeb clinched the victory on the Rally Mexico on Sunday and in the process he took the Citroen C4 WRC to the top step of the podium on its maiden outing on gravel.

Seb inherited the lead on day one after Petter Solberg was forced out prior to the start of El Cubilete 2, SS6. He had managed to stay in touch with the Norwegian following the opening loop and then began to come back at him on the repeat runs, cutting the gap from 7.7 seconds to 2.1 seconds prior to the Subaru driver having to call it a day. He ended the first day with a 26-second cushion.

The Frenchman then eased further ahead on day two and thanks to four wins from the six 'proper' tests, his advantage went up by over a minute on his nearest rival. As such he could pace himself through the final 62 competitive kilometres on Sunday, to take his second win in succession in Mexico - and the 30th of his WRC career.

The event wasn't completely trouble-free for the Citroen man though and en-route to the ten points he, like some of the other crews, had to dodge the rocks, some of which were thrown at the cars by the spectators and others which had been deliberately left in the road. He also had to 'nudge' a gate open on Saturday in SS10, as it was obstructing the route!

Marcus Gronholm meanwhile took the runners-up spot, 55.8 secs back and while the Finn definitely showed he had the pace to take the win, sadly for him, problems on day one meant he was not in a position to challenge Loeb.

Indeed while he expected to lose out on the first loop on Friday, due to the fact he was running first on the road, he was unable to bounce back in the afternoon because of a sensor fault, which left him down on power. The time lost then proved crucial.

Despite that though, the eight points for the runners-up spot were enough to keep the BP Ford team leader top in the WRC drivers' championship, although Seb is now in second place and four points closer – 32 points versus 28.

Mikko Hirvonen took the final place on the podium to give Ford a 2-3 finish. Mikko, like Gronholm, lost time on the first loop on Friday when he was running second on the road. However, the Finn came back on the repeat runs and ended the day third.

He then quickly moved up to second on Saturday before losing out to Gronholm on SS11. The Rally Norway winner was determined to try and regain the place in the afternoon, however it all went pear-shaped for him in SS13, when he spun and lost 20 seconds, something that ultimately dropped him back to fourth, 2.8 seconds behind Daniel Sordo.

Although he easily passed the Spaniard on the final leg, and won two of the three proper tests, the spin on Duarte 2 left him unable to challenge for the runners-up spot.

Sordo eventually finished around 16 seconds back in his C4, however combined with the points' scored by Loeb, it allowed Citroen to nibble into Ford's lead in the manufacturers', albeit by just one point.

Dani's event was reasonably trouble-free and it was clear he was delighted to have left the winter events behind him. Indeed he set a number of good times and was in the top five on all of them bar two. He even managed to win the third run through the Super Special, which was held on Saturday, tied at the top with Manfred Stohl.

Chris Atkinson was next up in fifth place to give the new 2007 spec Impreza points on its debut. The Subaru driver was second at the end of day one, but dropped back on Saturday unable to hold off the BP Ford drivers and Sordo. His cause though wasn't helped by a technical problem in the afternoon, which affected the turbo boost.

His pace though in the Impreza was good and he set 11 times in the top five. That combined with the fact Petter was going so well before he had to retire on Friday, should give the Banbury-based operation at least a slight reason to smile.

Further-down the order, OMV Kronos' Manfred Stohl secured three points for sixth. The Austrian was on the whole unable to match the 'big boys' but he did finish top in terms of the semi-privateer efforts. The highlight for him came on day one, when he topped the times in Ortega 2. He will though no doubt be frustrated to have finished over 2 minutes off the final podium place.

Stobart trio, Jari-Matti Latvala, Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg came in seventh, eighth and ninth respectively. Latvala put in a mature drive to lead home the Ford 'B' team members, while Matthew Wilson, despite several problems, secured the final drivers' point – the second in his short WRC career.

Henning trailed both, nearly two minutes off Wilson, after an error in the first proper stage on Friday, when he hit a rock and rolled. That incident cost him around 3.5 minutes and with it any chance of getting anywhere near emulating his Rally Norway podium. Although he made up ground on days two and three and recovered somewhat to take the final manufacturers' point - Wilson was in the third car and not nominated - he was too far back to do anything more.

Of the other works' drivers', Luis-Perez Companc and Juan Pablo Raies both made it to the end for the Munchi's Ford outfit. Companc finished 18th overall after he had to retire from the first leg in SS1 with suspension damage. He rejoined under the SupeRally on Saturday, but like Henning, was too far back to do much more.

Raies therefore took the better position out of the two Munchi's men, ending up 12th, despite being dogged by brake problems on and off throughout the three-days.

Petter Solberg, as mentioned previously, was the only works' retirement, although he was joined on the sidelines on Saturday by Ford privateer, Gareth MacHale. Gareth's dad, Austin, also went out, but he waited until Sunday, when he rolled in his Focus in SS18.

In the Production Car WRC category, Mark Higgins led pretty much from start to finish and eventually beat Toshi Arai by 1min 20secs. It was by no means easy for the Brit though and he came under continual pressure from Mirco Baldacci on days one and two, only getting some breathing space, when Mirco had a puncture in SS14 and dropped down to fourth.

Kristian Sohlberg completed the PWRC podium - 1 minute off Arai and 1.5 minutes up on Baldacci, to grab the lead in the Production standings, while Travis Pastrana came in fifth followed by Stepan Vojtech, Fumio Nutahara and Spyros Pavildes, in sixth, seventh and eighth.

The big casualty in the Production class was reigning champion Nasser Al-Attiyah. Al-Attiyah retired early on day one with mechanical problems.

The WRC now returns to Europe for the next event on the schedule. The Rally de Portugal gets underway in just over 2 weeks time, running from March 29-April 1.


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