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Loeb draws level with Sainz with German win

13 August 2006

Kronos Citroen team leader, Sebastien Loeb took the victory on the Rallye Deutschland on Sunday, the ninth round in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship, and in doing so equalled the record held by Carlos Sainz.

Loeb and Sainz are now the two most successful drivers' in the history of the WRC, in terms of event wins, each having notched up 26 wins.

Loeb led the German event from the off on Friday and he and Daniel Sordo dominated the opening day, to end the first leg comfortably in front and ultimately pave the way for Kronos' eventual one-two finish. While their rivals struggled on the wrong tyres, Loeb and Sordo correctly predicted which tyres to be on and capitalised on it to end day one more than a minute up on their closest challengers.

Although Loeb came under some pressure on Saturday, when Sordo cut his advantage back from 40 seconds to 27 seconds, they soon eased off in order to try and ensure they finished 1-2. Indeed by the end of the second leg, Loeb's cushion had risen back to around 30-odd seconds. Both Loeb and Sordo paced themselves through the final leg and neither had any problems.

Loeb's victory, his fifth in succession on this event, dating back to his maiden WRC win in 2002, is the first time a driver has ever managed to win an event five years on the trot in the WRC. It was also his sixth of the season and allowed him to increase his advantage over Marcus Gronholm in the battle for the 2006 drivers' championship. He now lies 33-points ahead, with seven rounds to go.

Sordo meanwhile took the runners-up spot with another sensational performance. The Spaniard continues to make a name for himself and his runners-up spot, his fourth podium of the year, further consolidated his third position in the drivers' standings. He made no mistakes throughout the three-day event, despite the changeable weather conditions and excelled on his first outing in a WRC car in the wet. It was also his first event as Kronos' second driver, nominated to score manufacturers' points and as such he had to use the 2006-spec car with passive differentials.

Gronholm took the final spot on the rostrum in his BP Ford Focus. The Finn struggled on day one in the wet and admitted he didn't have the confidence to push in such conditions. He wasn't help by the fact he hadn't been able to test the car in the wet over the summer, nor was he aided by being on the wrong rubber. As conditions were generally dry or drier on days two and three though, he managed to claw back some time and ended the event 'best of the rest' after the dominant Kronos-run Citroens.

Citroen in fact almost took a clean-sweep of the podium and Toni Gardemeister did his best to overhaul Gronholm on the final day. He set three fastest stages times in his bid to demote his fellow countryman but eventually had to concede defeat and ended up around 10 seconds behind at the finish, in his Astra-run Xsara.

Mikko Hirvonen had looked to have secured fifth, however disaster struck following the last test, when the Finn had alternator issues on the way back to parc ferme. He eventually needed outside assistance to get to the end and picked up a 5 minute penalty as a result, dropping him down to ninth and out of the drivers' points. As such Manfred Stohl took fifth, the Austrian having a somewhat mixed event in his OMV Peugeot 307. He was though nonetheless delighted to pick up four points, his best finish to date in Germany.

Skoda duo, Andreas Aigner and Jan Kopecky came in sixth and seventh, although both had a dramatic finish when they had offs in the final stage. For Aigner it was his first points finish in the WRC and he did so in style on balance, with a good display over the three-days. Indeed he managed to set top ten stages times in 15 of the 19 tests and looked set to score pretty much throughout in his Red Bull-backed Fabia. Kopecky also went well in his Czech RT-run Skoda and he was even quickest in two stages on Saturday.

Chris Atkinson took the final drivers' point, the Aussie the only 'works' Subaru driver to make it to the finish, after both of his team-mates retired. Given his lack of experience on asphalt it was a good performance, although he is now looking forward to Finland and getting back on gravel, when he will again be in the second car and eligible to score manufacturers' points for the Banbury-based outfit.

Gareth MacHale rounded out the top ten, in his privately entered Ford Focus, with DTM star, Mattias Ekstrom eleventh for Red Bull Skoda. Technical problems dropped him back on day two, but the Swede kept it together and showed again that he is more than capable in a WRC car.

Further-down the field, Matthew Wilson came in twelfth for the Stobart VK team, issues on day one and three slowly him somewhat, but it was still a good performance for the Brit on his first outing in Germany. His team-mate, Jari-Matti Latvala finished too and took the final manufacturers' point, despite his off on day one in the first stage. He re-started under the SupeRally and was eventually classified in 34th position overall.

In the Junior WRC, Kris Meeke took the win, but he did it the hard way. Meeke led early on, until a brake problem on Friday dropped him down to sixth. He also conceded more time on Saturday in the opening test, before putting in a charge and ending day two just 0.6 seconds in front of Bernd Casier's Renault Clio S1600. Meeke eventually ended the event nearly 40-seconds up on Casier in his Citroen C2, while Pavel Valousek nicked third in the final test, demoting Julien Pressac to fourth. Martin Prokop was fifth ahead of local ace, Aaron Burkart, while Faith Kara and Luca Betti rounded out the points' finishers.

A number of drivers were forced out and in the 'senior' class, the most noticeable retirees were: Francois Duval, Petter Solberg and Stephane Sarrazin. Duval went out towards the end of day one, when he crashed in his First Motorsport prepared Skoda. Solberg followed on day two, with engine problems in the very first test, while Sarrazin had to call it a day on the final leg, when he went off the road in SS16 and damaged his gearbox when he tried to rejoin the road.

In the JWRC class, 11 of the 13 drivers', who opted to contest this round finished. Brice Tirabassi and Kalle Pinomaki were the two retirees, the former crashing out on day one, while the latter had mechanical problems on day two. Tirabassi had to be taken to hospital after his off and although he was ok, he will not be fit enough to compete in Finland next weekend.

The WRC now heads immediately to Finland, where the tenth round in the championship, gets underway this coming Thursday [August 11].


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