Britain - day 3: Loeb wins, secures 6th title
25 October 2009
Citroen number one driver Sebastien Loeb took the victory on the Rally of Great Britain today - and in the process secured the WRC drivers' title for a record sixth time.
Loeb took the lead in the very first stage on Friday, winning four of the day's six stages to finish the opening leg 5.3 seconds up on his championship rival, BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Mikko Hirvonen.
The Frenchman then came under pressure on Saturday morning, when Hirvonen was quickest in the opening test, Rhondda 1, the longest of the event, something that cut his cushion to just 2.9 seconds.
However, Loeb fought back in SS8 and SS9, setting the pace in both tests, and with Hirvonen struggling, conceding 10 seconds in each stage, the Citroen man returned to the mid-day halt in Cardiff 25 seconds ahead.
In the afternoon, Loeb continued to push taking two more stages wins in Crychan 2 and Halfway 2 to conclude the second leg just over half a minute ahead.
On the final day, Loeb could pace himself and while Hirvonen reduced the gap to 18.2 seconds after SS14, the Finn had dramas in the penultimate test, costing him more than a minute. Loeb subsequently took the win and the maximum 10 points with ease, beating his rival by 1 minute 6.1 seconds.
Seb, unsurprisingly, was delighted with the result, which maintains a run that has seen him win the WRC drivers' crown every year since 2004: “For sure it has been an incredible season,” Loeb said. “A very good start and then we lost everything in the middle of the year. I arrived here under big, big pressure but now I am really happy for this Championship.
“Mikko is really, really strong and I know that next year he will be even stronger. It is really an incredible feeling to win here.”
Hirvonen meanwhile did his best, but in the end it just wasn't enough and he was left to lament his pace - or rather lack of it - on Saturday morning, something that ultimately cost him any chance of victory.
In the end the Finn was lucky to hang on to second too after problems in Port Talbot 2, when he lost the bonnet on his Focus.
“The bonnet pin was the last of our problems. To be honest I lost the rally yesterday when I could not get the speed but that's life,” Hirvonen reflected philosophically. “We had the best performance ever up until then and I know for sure Seb has been under pressure from me all the way through.
“This was definitely the best year I have had but it has been a disappointing end. All I can do now is try again next year.”
Dani Sordo was next up and completed the podium, just 1 second off P2 after Hirvonen's issues in SS15. The Spaniard enjoyed a good battle with Petter Solberg on Friday, before pulling away and eventually finishing 21 seconds ahead.
“It has been a great day and a great Championship. I am really happy with today and delighted for Sebastien,” Sordo stated. “I was pushing to keep ahead of Mikko but never mind, he held it together. What a rally!”
Petter was also happy and the Norwegian was content to round off the year with fourth - especially as it was only his second competitive outing in a Citroen C4 WRC and his first with it gravel.
“It has been a long journey but I am very pleased really. Maybe I should have done a bit more testing before the rally but to be honest the whole rally has been fantastic and thank you to Citroen for this opportunity,” said Solberg, who of course had to compete with his own team this year after Subaru pulled out.
“I tried today to beat Sordo but it has been tough. Even so, I am happy. This weekend has been fantastic and I really hope to battle for the Championship next year.”
Further down the order, Sebastien Ogier looked on course for fifth until he rolled in the penultimate stage. The Frenchman was not pleased.
“We went off about two kilometres into stage,” he explained. “I think one of the cars in front may have hit a bank and bought some rocks onto the track. I couldn't not go around them and that's it, rally over.”
Ogier's misfortune promoted Stobart Ford duo Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson up to fifth and sixth respectively, and both are hoping to return now in 2010.
“I have had a good season and I hope to be in the Championship next year,” Henning stated.
Wilson continued: “It's been a tough weekend and a frustrating day on Friday. The car hasn't been great but yesterday was okay in the afternoon. We still don't know fully about next year but hopefully we will be back and will keep the momentum from this year to improve even more.
“Potentially we could have had a few better results this year but overall it's been a good year. Just a shame I couldn't have driven better on this, my home event.”
Jari-Matti Latvala and Citroen Junior Team man, Conrad Rautenbach rounded out the points' scorers' in seventh and eighth, the former having lost time on Friday with driveshaft problems and then with an off earlier today.
“It's been a very character building weekend. We have had a few issues, both from the car and with my driving with silly mistakes. There have been more lows than highs this year but now I just want to forget about rallying for just a moment and focus on something else and get my head ready for 2010,” said the BP Ford Abu Dhabi #2.
Of the rest, Eyvind Brynildsen initially came in ninth and took the Production Car World Rally Championship win, followed by Armindo Araujo, Martin Prokop, Steve Perez, Aaron Burkart, Toshi Arai and Martin Semerad.
Brynildsen dominated the P-WRC category in his Skoda Fabia S2000 and eventually triumphed by over 2 minutes. However post-event he was excluded for a technical infringement – non-conforming brakes. That handed Prokop the P-WRC honours.
The World Rally Championship now takes a sizeable break, before the new season begins with the Swedish Rally in February 2010.