Three weeks after being crowned World Rally Champion for an incredible seventh consecutive year, Sébastien Loeb has gone and demonstrated just why he is the sport's best by setting the pace on the shakedown for this weekend's Rallye de España – and promptly scoffed at suggestions that he might be willing to let his Citroën World Rally Team team-mate Dani Sordo triumph on home turf.
The four-hour run was held on a new, 3km stage on the outskirts of Salou in Catalunya, composed of two-thirds asphalt and a third gravel. In dry, sunny and warm conditions, Loeb proved that he is equally happy on both surfaces, winding up just over a second clear of any of his rivals following four passages. It was, the Frenchman reflected, a good start.
“People have been asking me if I'm going to drive slowly,” he told the official WRC website. “They want to know if I'm going to let Dani win. Of course I'm not! When I turn up, I drive to win. I don't want to let Dani win and, do you really think that Dani would want to win under those conditions?
“He doesn't want me to lead and then just let him past. I would prefer to stay at home rather than come here and not be prepared to drive to try to win.”
Indeed, it was not Sordo but rather fellow Citroën star and former World Rally Champion Petter Solberg who ran Loeb closest in his privately-run C4, with BP Ford Abu Dhabi ace Jari-Matti Latvala third-quickest, a scant tenth of a second further in arrears again. The Finn's countryman and team-mate Mikko Hirvonen was fourth, with Sordo only fifth.
Still, that was considerably better than the fate suffered by ex-F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen, who became the event's first major casualty when he rolled his C4 WRC on the tarmac first time through the stage, after clipping the inside of a left-hand corner and ending up in a bank on the other side of the road – leaving his car's roll cage too damaged to be able to continue [see separate story – click here
]. The Finn's misfortune compounded a poor opening day for the Citroën Junior Team, with team-mate Sébastien Ogier ending the shakedown a comparatively distant eighth.
Rallye de España: Top 10 Shakedown Times:
1. Sebastien Loeb
Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC 02mins 08.6secs
2. Petter Solberg
PSWRT Citroen C4 WRC +00mins 01.1secs
3. Jari-Matti Latvala
BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +00mins 01.2secs
4. Mikko Hirvonen
BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +00mins 01.3secs
5. Dani Sordo
Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +00mins 01.5secs
6. Federico Villagra
Munchi's Ford Focus WRC +00mins 02.6secs
7. Matthew Wilson
Stobart M-Sport Ford Focus WRC +00mins 03.1secs
8. Sebastien Ogier
Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +00mins 03.5secs
9. Frigyes Turan
Peugeot 307 WRC +00mins 05.7secs
10. Ken Block
Stobart M-Sport Ford Focus WRC +00mins 05.9secs