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Germany - day 3: Loeb in seventh heaven

17 August 2008

Sebastien Loeb was once again unbeatable on the Rallye Deutschland this weekend and he eventually came through to take the victory on the Trier-based by over 40 seconds.

Loeb dominated the tenth round in this year's World Rally Championship and led right from the off in his Citroen C4 WRC car. He set the pace in all three tests on the opening loop on Friday, completing SS1, the 21.22 km Ruwertal / Fell test in 11 minutes 31.6 seconds, 5.8 seconds up on his team-mate Dani Sordo, who was 'best of the rest'.

Seb then went quickest again in Grafschaft Veldenz to increase his early lead almost two-fold, before inching further in front in SS3, the 9.82 km run through Moselland.

In the afternoon Seb continued in the same vein, 2.2 seconds up on Francois Duval in SS4 and he headed into the final two stages with a 17.7 second advantage. While SS5 and SS6 were both disrupted - the former following Gigi Galli's big crash and the latter due to safety concerns, which meant only three drivers' actually completed it at speed - Loeb maintained his dominance and ended the first leg with a clean sweep of stage wins.

On day two he was again the class of the field and won all four tests in the morning to increase his overnight cushion from 19.9 seconds to 35.9, and while he did have a bit of a scare in SS9, when he almost went off the road near the finish, that was his only real drama.

On the repeat loop he continued to push and he posted an additional three fastest times in SS11, SS12 and SS13. It was only in the final test of the day, that Sordo spoilt his run and prevented him from taking a perfect 14 from 14, Seb losing out as he was 2.7 seconds slower.

Still though, he more than doubled his advantage - and he could then just pace himself through Sunday's final 85 competitive kilometres.

It is the seventh year in succession he has come out top in Germany - having won every year since the event joined the WRC back in 2002 - and the result moves him back into the lead in the battle for the 2008 drivers' championship, 4 points up on Mikko Hirvonen.

"After beating our main rival on his home event, we had no intention of letting anybody else take victory in Germany,” reflected the Citroen #1. “Our C4 WRC handled perfectly impeccably from start to finish and we got our tyre calls right every time. I had an excellent feeling with my car over all the different types of terrain we encountered here and that meant we were able to push hard from the word go and then consolidate our position.

“It's fantastic to have won here again in Trier where French spectators always turn out in big numbers. It's also a positive result for us in the Drivers' championship because it means we have recovered the lead, so we have plenty of reasons to be delighted with our weekend."

Dani Sordo meanwhile took the runners-up spot in the sister C4 WRC car, and that result gives the Citroen Total WRT the maximum 18-point haul and moves it in front of Ford in the manufacturers'. Citroen now has an 8 point lead, with 5 rounds to go.

Sordo's pace was equally good - and while he couldn't match Seb, he managed 14 top-three times, including one stage win. He eventually finished more than 30 seconds up on P3.

"I am very pleased to have finished second,” said the Spaniard. “The Rallye Deutschland isn't my favourite asphalt event because its format doesn't let you settle into a real rhythm, but it was very nice to be back on sealed surface stages.

“I had tremendous fun driving and running in second position. Our result gives Citroen a one-two finish and our overall points haul takes us to the top of the Manufacturers' standings, so that's clearly a result! I've moved up one place in the Drivers' points table, too, and we must now knuckle down to try to repeat the same sort of performance."

Stobart Ford's Francois Duval secured the final spot on the podium, having put in a charge on the final day - winning all four 'proper' tests - to ensure he kept Mikko Hirvonen behind in P4.

Duval, who was competing in the WRC for the first time since the Rallye Monte Carlo back in January, gradually got more and more confident with his Focus and that bodes well for him ahead of the other asphalt events in Spain and France.

"It's great to come here with very little testing and on new tyres and be able to finish on the podium,” he stated. “It was always going to be a big challenge to fight for a win as the other drivers have been competing all year and have been testing so the result feels very good."

Hirvonen in contrast had ended the first day in second, but he slipped to third on Saturday, before a puncture in the final stage dropped him to fourth. While he tried to fight back on Sunday, he couldn't close the gap and eventually finished 10.1 seconds back.

"I was on the limit this morning to try to catch Duval," said the Finn. "I had a big escape [in SS16]. I had a corner marked in my notes with a small cut, but I took a big cut. It was a high-speed bend and the car was up on two wheels for a long time. It was close! On the third stage I saw I was three seconds down on Duval at the third split section and decided to ease off and settle for fourth. I didn't want to make any mistakes chasing third and risk losing what I had.”

Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson completed the top six in their Subaru Impreza WRC2008s, and while the latter was 2 minutes adrift of his team-mate after a number of minor issues, including a costly overshot on day 1 and a puncture on day 2, both were reasonably happy.

"We had no problems at all this weekend which is very good. The very positive thing is that things have improved through the rally. We started with okay speed, and it got better through the rally,” said 'Hollywood'. “You have to remember we've only done two days' testing with the car, so I'm really very happy with it. I think we've found the direction we need to get the maximum from the car, so it's good."

"There were large gaps today so we weren't taking any silly risks,” added Chris. “Okay it's not been a bad weekend and there are a lot of things we can take forward from it. This morning was a little frustrating, but we tried to find out some new things today that will help us continue fine-tuning the car and improve our performance which is the main focus."

Further down the order Stobart Ford's Henning Solberg and Citroen privateer Urmo Aava were seventh and eighth respectively, followed by Jari-Matti Latvala and Suzuki's Toni Gardemeister, who collected the final manufacturers' point in tenth.

Henning was delighted to take P7 and score his first ever points on asphalt, not that he had it easy on Sunday, as Aava pushed hard cutting the Norwegian's cushion from 23.7 seconds overnight to just 1.6 seconds at the end.

"This has been a very special result for me it's nearly like winning the rally! Scoring my first points on tarmac is a big achievement and we have made some good steps here,” he stated.

“It was a difficult rally for me as I don't have much experience on tarmac and I came here to learn some more and make improvements. I knew I wasn't going to be challenging with the leaders here but we made good progress and learnt a lot for Spain and Corsica."

Jari's event was a lot less positive and after rolling his Focus on day 2, which dropped him from fifth to tenth, he never recovered.

"It was frustrating," he conceded. "It started well on Friday and I had a good position and feeling with the car but yesterday and today were nightmares. At least I increased my asphalt experience though. It's the most difficult of the asphalt rallies as the surface changes all the time. I learned that on aggressive asphalt I'm OK, but on a smoother surface I'm far away in my car set-up and confidence level.”

Of the rest Andreas Mikkelsen and Matthew Wilson finished eleventh and twelfth, with Conrad Rautenbach 13th, Khalid Al Qassimi 14th and Per-Gunnar Andersson 15th.

In the Junior World Rally Championship Sebastien Ogier took his third win of the year to strengthen his bid to claim the Junior title. Ogier was in contention for the win throughout and when Martin Prokop was sidelined with an alternator failure early on day 2 he was never really threatened.

Ogier eventually took the class glory by over 3 minutes, with fellow Citroen C2 S1600 runner Aaron Burkart second and Alessandro Bettega third. Shaun Gallagher and Simone Bertolotti rounded out the J-WRC top five.

As for retirements, Gigi Galli was the only 'major' name not to finish following his high-speed crash on day 1 in SS5. The Italian broke his left leg in the incident and had to have surgery on Friday night. He is now said to be recovering well, although he will be out for quite some time.

The World Rally Championship now faces its longest journey of the season when competitors head to Hamilton for the Rally New Zealand, which runs from August 28-31. Based again at Mystery Creek in the North Island, competitors will tackle 16 stages stretching over 355 competitive kilometres.


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