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Germany - leg 3: Loeb does it again

19 August 2007

Sebastien Loeb kept up his unbroken run of victories on the Rallye Deutschland on Sunday, when he came through to win the Trier-based event for the sixth year in succession.

The Citroen man took the lead from the very first stage on Friday and won two of the three tests that made up the first loop to return to the mid-day service with a 5.8 second lead.

The repeat runs though didn't go so well and after gambling on the softer BFGoodrich tyres, in the belief that it would rain, the Frenchman found himself at a bit of a disadvantage and although he minimised the damage very well, he was piped in the final test of the day, SS6, and dropped to P2, after his former team-mate, Francois Duval put in a charge.

On Saturday though normal service was resumed and Loeb re-took the top spot on the very first test. Furthermore after Francois lost around 20 seconds with two costly spins, Seb found himself with a 15.2 second advantage.

The triple world champion then proceeded to increase the margin further in SS8 and went into the first remote service zone having pulled out a 24.9 second cushion. Following that Seb continued to set the standard and by the time the crews returned to the mid-day service he was 26.7 seconds up on his nearest challenger.

During the repeat runs in the afternoon, he continued to inch further and further away and he eventually ended day 2 37.8 seconds up on Marcus Gronholm.

Sunday was the usual scenario and Loeb paced himself to the finish and he eventually won by around 20 seconds.

The result is a welcome boost for him, especially as Gronholm missed out on second after a mistake in the final stage.

Consequently Loeb cut the gap to Gronholm in the drivers' championship by five points, rather than 2 and the margin between them goes down from 13 points to 8 – with six rounds still and 60 still up for grabs.

Gronholm for his part had a bad start on Friday and he lost 10 seconds straight away when he was only seventh fastest in SS1 due to a lack of confidence. Although he made some changes and was happier in SS2, setting the second best time, just 0.9 seconds off the stage winner, he was unable to keep that up during the remainder of the day and was fourth quickest in SS3, SS4, SS5 and SS6. He finished the first leg in third.

Right from the off then he was on the back foot and while he did make progress on Saturday, moving up from third to second, he was poor again in the first test of the day, SS7, and initially dropped behind his team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen after only managing the fifth quickest time.

Both BP Ford drivers' however, managed to get the jump on Duval in SS8 and Marcus then went up to P2 in SS9, taking his first - and only - stage win of the event. With the second best in SS10, he moved away from the battle for third and he concluded day 2 12.6 seconds up on Duval.

The final day wasn't easy for Gronholm though and with Duval on a charge the Finn came under big pressure, seemingly cracking in the very last test, when he made a mistake and went off the road. That incident cost him over a minute and he dropped behind Duval and Hirvonen, ending up fourth.

Duval meanwhile was sensational throughout the event and his performance was extremely impressive.

Indeed the Belgian won more stages than Seb - 7 versus 5 - and if he hadn't made those crucial few errors on Saturday morning, when he spun twice in SS7 and stalled at the start of SS8, something that cost him around 20-30 seconds, he could possibly have had a very good chance to halt Loeb's run of wins.

The fact this was only his second WRC event of the season – and his first with the Xsara WRC since his win in Australia back in 2005, also showed that this was a very special drive and with him admitting pre-event that a good performance might allow him to do more events with OMV Kronos this season, it is extremely well timed.

He is also said to be in the frame for a drive with Suzuki, when the manufacturer steps up to the top level with the SX4 and this will have certainly put his name a bit higher up that list of potential candidates.

Mikko Hirvonen inherited the final place on the podium after Marcus' off in SS19. He had been just behind Duval at the end of Saturday, but a wrong tyre choice dropped him out of contention and in the end he finished 60 seconds back.

Skoda privateer, Jan Kopecky took fifth – his best result of the season in the Fabia WRC and one that equals his best from last year when he was P5 in Spain. The Czech may have had a few issues with his engine on Saturday, but he kept his cool and was well rewarded at the finish.

He also set some very competitive times, including a fourth fastest time on day two and achieved the result very much on merit.

Subaru's Petter Solberg rounded out the top six and while he had some problems on day 1 and damaged his steering in SS6, he was more in the groove by the finish. Indeed he set five top five times on the final day and despite nearly hitting a cow in the final test, the 18.08 kilometre-run through Moselwein, brought his Impreza WRC safely to the finish.

Toni Gardemeister and Jari-Matti Latvala rounded out the points' scorers' in seventh and eighth respectively, the former having dropped back in the final two stages, when he had handbrake problems in the penultimate test. Still though it wasn't a bad drive for the ex-Skoda and Ford works man and considering he also had hydraulic and damper problems on Saturday, two points was pretty good for him on his return to using an Astra-PH Sport Xsara WRC.

Latvala's perseverance paid off and while his pace was a bit disappointing, especially in light of how he has gone recently on some of the other events, he was still happy with a point – his first WRC point on an asphalt event.

Britain's Matthew Wilson and Guy Wilks completed the top ten, while Henning Solberg was slightly further down the order, but still picked up two manufacturers' points. Henning retired on both day 1 and day 2, but got to the end thanks to the SupeRally format.

BP Ford 'third' driver, Khalid Al-Qassimi also finished thanks to the SupeRally, while Chris Atkinson took the final manufacturers point and was classified in 15th, despite crashing out and hitting a wall in SS16.

Subaru third driver, Xavier Pons also had problem on the last day, he went out on the stage before Atkinson, with engine problems. He was classified in 18th.

Citroen's Dani Sordo and OMV Kronos' Manfred Stohl were the two big retirements – both sidelined with engine problems, Sordo on day 1 and Stohl on day 2.

In the Junior Rally Championship category, Martin Prokop dominated in his Citroen C2 Super 1600, leading from start-to-finish. He eventually beat Urmo Aava by just under 50 seconds, although the Estonian's second place is enough to lift him into the lead in the JRC standings, ahead of his Suzuki Swift team-mate, Per-Gunnar Andersson, who had to sit out this event after picking up a one-month driving ban in his native country.

Conrad Rautenbach completed the JRC podium, followed by Aaron Burkart and Jozef Beres.

Reigning Junior champion, Patrik Sandell did not finish after he was excluded for receiving outside assistance at the end of day 1. He had finished the first leg in fifth place overall in his Renault Clio.

The FIA World Rally Championship now continues in two weeks time, when teams and drivers' head to the other side of the world for Rally New Zealand, which runs from August 31 to September 2.


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