Citroen's Sebastien Loeb won Rallye Deutschland today to take his fifth win in succession - and his ninth in Germany.
Loeb was always the favourite going into the ninth round in the 2012 World Rally Championship and the Frenchman began the event in dominant fashion by winning the first three stages to build a 13.1 second lead over Petter Solberg. He then extended that margin on Friday afternoon ending the first day with a 20.4 second advantage.
On Saturday morning, Seb gained further ground, as his rivals lost out in the rain-hit SS7 and following SS8 his cushion was up to 41.6 seconds. Then came the first run through the daunting Panzerplatte test, SS9, with Solberg - Seb's biggest threat - forced out around 30 kilometres in when he hit a rock. Thierry Neuville also had problems in that test, and went off the road in his Citroen DS3 WRC. He had been running in fourth.
Heading into the repeat loop, Loeb pulled further ahead, and while Panzerplatte 2 took another three scalps, with Ott Tanak, Dani Sordo, Peter van Merksteijn Jr all going out, Seb again set the pace to conclude the second day with a commanding 1 minute 42.9 second lead.
While the rain returned on Sunday, Loeb was quickest in the first test of the day, and despite a little problem with the turbo in SS14, he successfully negotiated the 4.37 km Circus Maximus Trier super special, winning the Powet Stage and re-claiming his German crown, only lost last year when he was slowed by a puncture.
The result further increases his lead in the drivers' championship, with the gap up from 43 points to 54, while Citroen also increases its lead over Ford in the manufacturers.
“We had a good drive and a perfect car. I was very confident in the car and we made no mistakes, which is very important. Keeping the car on the road was not easy, but we have done it,” Loeb said. “I always enjoy this rally. We have had a lot of victories here. To win here again is very nice. It was the perfect weekend for me.”
Jari-Matti Latvala meanwhile was 'best of the rest', not that he ever really looked like challenging for the victory. The Finn wasn't happy with his set-up on Friday morning and while he claimed two stages win in the afternoon, he lost ground with a relatively slow time in SS5. He also suffered a spin the next day in SS8, which cost him around 30-odd seconds and dropped him to fifth. Although he quickly regained second with Panzerplatte 1 taking its toll, by now Loeb was comfortably ahead.
“It has not been an easy rally,” Latvala admitted. “A lot has happened. But overall I am happy we are at the finish – and this is my best finish on a tarmac rally.”
Behind, Mikko Hirvonen took the final spot on the podium, and while he struggled initially to find the pace on asphalt in his Citroen DS3 WRC car, he improved as the event went on, benefitting from the misfortune that befell a number of his rivals: “It is an important result for the team. I had a really tough time on this rally, but we came through with no mistakes and I learned a lot. It is not too bad,” said the Finn.