As expected, the World Rally Championship's 'recordman' Sébastien Loeb cruised to an emotional victory on the final morning of this weekend's Rallye de France to clinch an incredible seventh straight drivers' crown – in the very same town as that in which he was born some 36 years ago.
Never headed throughout the event in his home region of Alsace, Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena might not have triumphed on any of the three Sunday stages – with the unfortunately named 'Bitche Camp 2' being cancelled on safety grounds due to too many spectators – and indeed set an uncharacteristically lowly eighth-fastest time on the final 4km stage in the former's birthplace of Haguenau, but it mattered little.
The Frenchman's flawless 60th career success at the highest level came at the end of another untroubled day at the wheel of his Citroën World Rally Team C4 WRC, and after finishing some 35.7 seconds clear of team-mate Dani Sordo, the local hero admitted the weekend could scarcely have gone any better.
“This is fantastic,” he enthused, speaking to the official WRC website. “This has been a very impressive rally. It has been very difficult and I didn't expect so many people to be here. This is the best result for me, to win the championship here in France.”
Sordo's runner-up spot following a solid performance was enough to similarly put the manufacturers' laurels beyond reach with two events remaining on the 2010 calendar – whilst 2003 World Rally Champion Petter Solberg ensured that it was a clean sweep of the podium for Citroën, even if the popular Norwegian was left ruing an overly-stiff set-up on his car on the opening day.
“I'm really happy for Sébastien,” affirmed Sordo, “and I'm really happy for Citroën. There have been so many people watching from the roadside – this is a good result for them.”
“It's a shame we lost that time in the mud – I hadn't done any testing in those conditions,” added Solberg, “but it's a great feeling, we're here with another podium and it's great for my championship chances to finish ahead of Jari-Matti [Latvala].”
BP Ford Abu Dhabi team-mates and countrymen Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen rounded out the top five, with the pair pacing the last stage and a satisfied Latvala professing himself encouraged by the four fastest stage times he set over the course of the weekend – if ultimately a shade disappointed to be narrowly pipped to the bottom step on the rostrum by Solberg at the end of a see-saw battle between the pair.
“The podium was close,” reflected the Crash.net
columnist, “but when they cancelled the second run on the long stage today, Petter was too far away. I said before the start that I wanted to be fifth or better, so I have to be happy that I fulfilled my prediction, but without that mistake last night I could have been a lot closer. I have an appreciation of what Petter has done here – he has driven very well again.”
The only man who could still have denied Loeb the title – namesake Sébastien Ogier – wound up sixth after re-starting the event under SupeRally rules following his suspension-induced 'retirement' the previous day, with Munchi's Federico Villagra seventh and Stobart pairing Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg eighth and ninth, albeit in different cars on this rally.
Super 2000 success went the way of Patrik Sandell – who finished an excellent tenth outright into the bargain – with Jéremy Ancian prevailing for the first time in JWRC in his Suzuki Swift S1600, and Armindo Araujo dominating the Production class all the way to the end.
To see the results in full, click here
To see the updated world championship standings, click here