Citroen's Sebastien Loeb won Rallye Deutschland today to take his fifth win in succession - and his ninth in Germany.
Loeb was always the favourite going into the ninth round in the 2012 World Rally Championship and the Frenchman began the event in dominant fashion by winning the first three stages to build a 13.1 second lead over Petter Solberg. He then extended that margin on Friday afternoon ending the first day with a 20.4 second advantage.
On Saturday morning, Seb gained further ground, as his rivals lost out in the rain-hit SS7 and following SS8 his cushion was up to 41.6 seconds. Then came the first run through the daunting Panzerplatte test, SS9, with Solberg - Seb's biggest threat - forced out around 30 kilometres in when he hit a rock. Thierry Neuville also had problems in that test, and went off the road in his Citroen DS3 WRC. He had been running in fourth.
Heading into the repeat loop, Loeb pulled further ahead, and while Panzerplatte 2 took another three scalps, with Ott Tanak, Dani Sordo, Peter van Merksteijn Jr all going out, Seb again set the pace to conclude the second day with a commanding 1 minute 42.9 second lead.
While the rain returned on Sunday, Loeb was quickest in the first test of the day, and despite a little problem with the turbo in SS14, he successfully negotiated the 4.37 km Circus Maximus Trier super special, winning the Powet Stage and re-claiming his German crown, only lost last year when he was slowed by a puncture.
The result further increases his lead in the drivers' championship, with the gap up from 43 points to 54, while Citroen also increases its lead over Ford in the manufacturers.
“We had a good drive and a perfect car. I was very confident in the car and we made no mistakes, which is very important. Keeping the car on the road was not easy, but we have done it,” Loeb said. “I always enjoy this rally. We have had a lot of victories here. To win here again is very nice. It was the perfect weekend for me.”
Jari-Matti Latvala meanwhile was 'best of the rest', not that he ever really looked like challenging for the victory. The Finn wasn't happy with his set-up on Friday morning and while he claimed two stages win in the afternoon, he lost ground with a relatively slow time in SS5. He also suffered a spin the next day in SS8, which cost him around 30-odd seconds and dropped him to fifth. Although he quickly regained second with Panzerplatte 1 taking its toll, by now Loeb was comfortably ahead.
“It has not been an easy rally,” Latvala admitted. “A lot has happened. But overall I am happy we are at the finish – and this is my best finish on a tarmac rally.”
Behind, Mikko Hirvonen took the final spot on the podium, and while he struggled initially to find the pace on asphalt in his Citroen DS3 WRC car, he improved as the event went on, benefitting from the misfortune that befell a number of his rivals: “It is an important result for the team. I had a really tough time on this rally, but we came through with no mistakes and I learned a lot. It is not too bad,” said the Finn.
Mads Ostberg was next up for the Adapta WRT in his Fiesta RS WRC, maintaining a run that has seen him score points in every single event this year. Indeed he has now finished in the points in all of his last ten WRC events.
“I am very pleased with the result,” Ostberg commented, “and with how we have got quicker and quicker. Unfortunately I didn't have the prep I wanted, but the learning curve was good and we made some good steps.”
Chris Atkinson took fifth to begin his relationship with the WRC MINI Team Portugal outfit in style. The Aussie opted to take it cautiously on his debut run with the MINI John Cooper Works WRC car and his approach paid off.
“It is awesome to get this result,” said Atkinson. “A big thanks to the team. The MINI has been fantastic. It has been a tough rally and the conditions have been tough too. But we stuck to our strategy and it worked. We now have a good base and can start moving forward [in the coming events]. It is early days - but this is a great result.”
Further back Volkswagen Motorsport's Sebastien Ogier and Andreas Mikkelsen came in sixth and seventh in their Skoda Fabia S2000 cars. Sixth was Ogier and VW's best result of the season, and for the team to achieve it at their home event made it all the sweeter. Mikkelsen also gave the team another reason to cheer by setting the third best time in the Power Stage.
Nasser Al-Attiyah took eighth for the Qatar WRT, with Prodrive WRC Team MINI pilot Dani Sordo taking advantage of the Rally 2 rules to re-start today and come home in ninth. He had been running as high as third on Saturday, but lost out in Panzerplatte - first with a puncture and then on the repeat-run through he hit a hickelstein. Mathieu Arzeno took the final point.
Of the rest, Solberg and Neuville finished in 11th and 12th, while Daniel Oliveria was the only other manufacturer entry to make it to the end, down in 23rd position in his Brazil WRT-run Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
In the support categories, Michal Kosciuszko took the PWRC win - and 14th place overall. Kosciuszko finished 2 minutes up on Benito Guerra, while Marcos Ligato was third, 8 minutes further back.
In the WRC Academy, which finished at the end of day two, Elfyn Evans claimed his third successive victory to extend his lead at the head of the championship. Jose Suarez was second, 1 minute 9.9 seconds back, with John MacCrone, who led early on, snatching the final place on the podium.
In terms of retirements, Evgeny Novikov had an event to forget, going out in the very first stage in his M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC. Although he re-started on day two, he was forced out for good after SS13 due to a mechanical problem.
Novikov's team-mate, Ott Tanak also failed to finish. He had been running fourth until he crashed in the final test on Saturday. Although he rejoined and finished in ninth, he was withdrawn after the event to allow the team to fit replacement parts for the next asphalt rally in France in October.
Martin Prokop was another retiree, going no further than SS3 after his car caught fire, while Paulo Nobre went out in SS9 and Peter van Merksteijn Jr rolled it in SS12.
The WRC now heads to Wales in a few weeks time, with Rally GB running from September 13-16.
To view the result for the 2012 Rallye Deutschland - CLICK HERE