STOP PRESS: Petter Solberg was excluded after the event when his car was found to be underweight [see separate story - CLICK HERE
Citroen's Sebastien Ogier
has won Rallye de France - and with Sebastien Loeb
retiring on the first day in the sister works DS3 WRC, the championship race is now well and truly on.
The eleventh round in the 2011 World Rally Championship produced a thrilling event and Loeb, the pre-event favourite, was taken out of the equation early on, with engine problems forcing him out in only the third stage. That left Ogier to take the early initiative and he finished the first loop on Friday five seconds up on Petter Solberg. However on the afternoon loop, Solberg and Dani Sordo both fought back, the latter ending the first day top - a historic first for the new MINI WRT team.
Day two was just as close and the three-way fight continued until SS11, when Petter picked up a slow puncture and lost over 40 seconds. That left Sordo and Ogier out front and following SS12 the former held P1 by just 0.2 seconds.
Ogier put in a charge though after that, winning four of the five tests on the Saturday afternoon to build a 9.5 second lead.
Although the Frenchman saw his cushion almost halved mid-way through the final leg, he pulled away again in SS21 and SS22 and following the final test, he beat Sordo by 6.3 seconds.
The 25 points for the win - and 1 for being third in the Power Stage - now leave Ogier just three points off Loeb and Ford's Mikko Hirvonen
in the drivers' championship.
“I am very happy,” said Ogier after winning in front of his home fans. “This result is a very good thing for the championship. After Sebastien [Loeb]'s problem I had to face a lot of pressure as I was the only one left in the rally [for our team]. It was very difficult especially with Sordo, who was flat out on this surface and deserves our warmest congratulations. It's been a good weekend though and we got good points.”
Hirvonen was less happy with his weekend and had a number of escapes throughout the three-days. However while he was well and truly beaten by his team-mate, Jari-Matti Latvala, he still finished in front, as Jari-Matti again played the team game and deliberately picked up a two minute penalty prior to the final test.
Mikko also gained another position post-event when Petter was excluded - something that puts him third and now means he has scored exactly the same amount of points as Loeb.