Citroen driver Sebastien Loeb has claimed his first victory in the FIA World Rally Championship on the tenth round of this year's series, the Rallye Deutschland, which finished in Trier this [Sunday] afternoon.
The young Frenchman and navigator Daniel Elena resisted intense pressure from the reigning world champion, Richard Burns, to hang on to their overnight lead and emerge victorious by less than 20 seconds. Current series leader Marcus Grönholm extended his points advantage by finishing third.
Today's final leg was held on more traditional roads, less abrasive but narrower and more twisty than the Baumholder military ranges that caused such havoc among the leading crews yesterday [Saturday]. But some of the top stars still hit trouble; Harri Rovanperä retired his Peugeot with accident damage, while Carlos Sainz missed out on a potential points finish when he stalled on the start line of one stage and struggled to restart his Ford's engine.
The Citroen Xsara WRC of Sebastien Loeb though has been reliable and the Frenchman secured the first world championship rally win of his career. Loeb and his navigator Daniel Elena faced stiff opposition all day from the pursuing Richard Burns, but they matched the Englishman's pace on many stages and pinched back seconds where possible to keep their advantage. At one point, their cushion was axed to well under 10 seconds but by the finish, Loeb had bolstered his winning margin to around 14 seconds. The success was all the sweeter for Loeb because he was denied victory in Monte Carlo by a tyre rule infringement earlier this season.
“I'm delighted to get my first victory, of course. Monte Carlo earlier this year was not really a victory for me so this is like the first real win,” said Loeb. “This is really like my home rally and there were a lot of fans around here for me, all wanting me to win. I'm pleased for them as well. Yesterday was a very difficult day - we made a few small mistakes - but we knew this morning that Richard would push so we just tried our best and it was enough.”
Citroen Sport team chief Guy Frequelin added: “I'm very pleased with the performance of Sebastien and Daniel here. They were under a lot of pressure this morning but I didn't have to talk to them about their approach at all.”
The other two Citroen's retired before today's final leg. Jesus Puras, a late entry replacing the injured Thomas Radstrom was the first to go, he retired in SS3 with electrical problems and Philippe Bugalski lost control of his Xsara yesterday, damaging the exhaust in the impact leading to retirement soon after.
At Peugeot the 206 WRCs of both Marcus Grönholm and Richard Burns have been reliable. Harri Rovanperä's car ran without problems before he damaged it terminally in an accident in SS19.
Try as he might, Burns was unable to catch Loeb, and the reigning world champion was forced to settle for second overall. Burns felt that today's stages were more enjoyable to drive than the Baumholder ranges but the nature of the roads and the dry surfaces seemed to offer him less scope to eat into Loeb's advantage. The Englishman closed to within eight seconds at one point, but his attacked met stern resistance in the later stages and by the finish, he was over 14 seconds off the top spot.