He might be stepping back from rallying, but record breaking multi-World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb still did the business on Rally Argentina, winning the event for the eighth successive time to put Citroen back on top and end Sebastien Ogier's run of success.
Loeb came into the event, the fifth round in the 2013 World Rally Championship, playing down his chances of success. However despite sitting out the events in Mexico and Portugal, he was second quickest in qualifying and third in the short super special that kicked off the action on Wednesday afternoon.
Day one 'proper' saw the 39-year-old trail Ogier, and while he made the wrong tyre choice for the afternoon loop, he still finished the day second, and within striking distance of his fellow countryman, with 16.3 seconds between them.
Friday's first loop then proved pivotal and while Loeb made a mistake at the end of the first test and ran wide in SS7, Ogier had bigger dramas and skidded off the course on a long right-hand bend, losing more than 40 seconds. That put Seb Senior on top and a charge in the afternoon saw him build up an unassailable advantage.
Coming into the final leg he had a 39.8 seconds lead and that was more than sufficient to ensure him of his second win of the year and the 78th of his career. He is now scheduled to do just one more WRC event, Rally de France in October, and then that will be it...
“It's great emotion to be here and to win,” Loeb said at the finish. “It was a tough rally, but an incredible atmosphere. It was very nice to feel the support of the fans this weekend - a great rally for us. Perfect drive, no problem.”
Ogier meanwhile opted to settle for second. The Volkswagen man had been in a class of his own up until Amboy-Yacanto 1, and won five of the first six stages. However with Loeb not in championship contention - due to his limited programme of events – Ogier decided not to risk losing 18 valuable championship points. He now extends his lead over his main rival, Mikko Hirvonen, from 54 points to 65.
“It has been a good weekend for us. We had a lot of problems and so we are happy to be at the finish. After five rounds it looks quite promising for us,” Ogier remarked.
Behind, Jari-Matti Latvala managed to beat Evgeny Novikov and take third, his second podium on the trot for VW. Latvala won all four stages on the final day – including the Power Stage – moving up to P3 in the penultimate test. Novikov tried to come back at the Finn in the last stage, but a half-spin decided matters and cost the Qatar M-Sport WRT man around 40 seconds, although he still took fourth.
Thierry Neuville rounded out the top-five and while he was 2 minutes further back, the Belgian could certainly be happy with his consistency. Indeed the Qatar WRT driver posted top-ten times in every single test, running in the points throughout.
Mikko Hirvonen was a disappointed sixth in his Citroen DS3 WRC car. Hirvonen was only 8.9 seconds behind Loeb at the mid-day point on Friday. But a puncture in SS8 and electrical problems in SS9 dropped him right back, costing him over 6 minutes, and any chance of a decent result.
Mads Ostberg was another left cursing bad luck when he hit an unsighted rock in SS4 on Thursday afternoon. That incident broke a front steering arm on his Qatar M-Sport WRT-run Fiesta RS WRC car and he was forced to retire. He re-joined on Friday under Rally 2 and then fought back to claim seventh.
Volkswagen third driver Andreas Mikkelsen also took advantage of the Rally 2 regulations and he re-joined on Sunday, pipping Dani Sordo to eighth in the final stage. At the finish just 0.2 seconds split the two. Sordo dropped out of contention early on, when he rolled his Citroen DS3 WRC car in SS3. The Spaniard later confirmed that co-driver, Carlos del Barrio had been distracted by a half open door and then called the wrong pace-note.
Martin Prokop rounded out the top ten, although disappointingly for the Czech driver he lost two places in the final two tests.
In WRC2, Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari led the support class practically from start-to-finish, eventually taking a dominant win in his Ford Fiesta RRC - over 13 minutes up Nicolas Fuchs. Marcos Liagto completed the WRC2 podium.
As for retirements, Michal Kosciuszko was the most notable name on the DNF list. He retired his Lotos Team WRC-run MINI John Cooper Works WRC in the final stage on Thursday and while he did re-start on Friday, he went out again in the first test with suspension problems.
The WRC now heads back to Europe, with the Acropolis Rally of Greece, getting underway at the end of the month, running from May 31 to June 2.
To view the result for the 2013 Rally Argentina - CLICK HERE