WRC living legend Sebastien Loeb took the laurels on Rallye de France-Alsace this weekend securing his eighth victory of the year and with it his ninth drivers' title.
Loeb dominated the eleventh round in the 2012 World Rally Championship moving to the head of the field in the first 'proper' test, when he was quickest in Hohlandsbourg 1, SS2. He then started to pull out a gap on Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala and concluded the opening leg 13.1 seconds ahead.
On Saturday, Seb pushed on more than doubling his advantage in the first loop, in part thanks to two quickest times and also because Latvala made a crucial mistake in SS10 and lost around 18 seconds when he ran wide and into a ditch. The Frenchman then maintained his 30-odd second advantage in the afternoon, concluding the day 29.7 seconds ahead. That meant Loeb could take it relatively leisurely on the Sunday, and while the weather did make things rather tricky, he successfully came through the final six stages and eventually triumphed by 15.5 seconds.
Citroen incidentally also clinched the manufacturers' title to make it a double celebration.
“It's incredible,” Loeb told the official WRC site. “We were dreaming about this moment at the start of the rally having lived this two years ago. Now we are here again with the victory and the championship in front of all these wonderful people.
“It's not possible to get better than this, it was a dream all weekend in front of all these fans. We couldn't believe the atmosphere two years ago, it was amazing then and it's amazing now.”
Latvala meanwhile had to settle for the runners-up spot in his Ford, but despite that he was happy with his pace and pleased to have been able to take the fight to Loeb on asphalt: “This is my best tarmac result. I have never ever been so close to Sebastien Loeb on a tarmac rally if you think about the overall gap, so I need to be happy,” said the Finn.
Mikko Hirvonen was next up in the second works Citroen DS3 WRC car, 44 seconds off Loeb and 28.7 seconds off Latvala: “I am quite happy,” said Mikko. “I have made a step forward on tarmac with the car. I have had good pace at times and it is a good result.”
Thierry Neuville fought back from sixth overnight to take fourth, in the process winning five of the days six stages and sending out a clear message – if one was needed – that he will be someone to watch in coming years. The Belgian slipped behind Mads Ostberg and Dani Sordo on Saturday when he picked up a 20 second penalty for being late at TC11, but his form on the final day made it all academic, although he was only 23.2 seconds off the final podium place at the finish: “This is a great result for us,” said Neuville. “We made no mistakes.”
Ostberg rounded out the top five and the Adapta Ford WRT driver was also happy, and reckoned he had never driven better on the 'black stuff': “I am very pleased with my progress. I enjoyed the battle today, but I just couldn't match Thierry. He was too quick,” stated the Norwegian.
Behind, M-Sport Ford pair Ott Tanak and Evgeny Novikov were sixth and seventh, the latter surviving a big scare in SS18 and when he went off the road and lost 3 minutes. Tanak also had a spin this morning, but did enough to set the top time in SS20, the Power Stage, and take home the maximum three bonus points.
Chris Atkinson was the best placed MINI driver in eighth, after a solid drive at the wheel of his John Cooper Works WRC car.
Czech Ford National Team man Martin Prokop and Sebastien Chardonnet filled the final two points' places, the latter taking a point on what on his first outing in the WRC with the Citroen DS3 WRC.
Of the rest, Volkswagen Motorsport-duo Sebastien Ogier and Andreas Mikkelsen were eleventh and twelfth in their Skoda Fabia S2000s, followed by Julien Maurin, Yvan Muller, Hermann Gassner and Romain Dumas in positions 13 through to 16.
In the SWRC, Craig Breen took the victory, with overnight leader Hayden Paddon retiring after problems in SS20. Yazeed Al-Rajhi was second in the class, 37.6 seconds back, while P-G Andersson took third, gifted the position at the end when team-mate Andreas Aigner checked in 9 minutes early at the final time control.
As for the WRC Academy, Elfyn Evans was in a class of his own again, taking his fourth win in succession and securing the title [see separate story - HERE
In terms of retirements, Dani Sordo was the biggest scalp today. The Spaniard was forced out in his Prodrive-run MINI John Cooper Works WRC car following a heavy impact in SS18. He limped through SS19, but retired after.
Nasser Al-Attiayh also failed to finish, after an accident on Saturday in SS10, while Paulo Nobre retired with one test to go.
Petter Solberg re-started this morning under the Rally 2 rules after his off in SS9 and was classified in 26th position.
The WRC now moves to Sardinia in a few weeks time, with that event running from October 18-21.
To view the result for the 2012 Rallye de France - CLICK HERE