Citroen's Sebastien Loeb concluded his full-time WRC career with victory on Rally de Espana this weekend.
The final round in the 2012 World Rally Championship got off to a dramatic start on Friday, with 11 of the 20 top starters caught out as heavy rain transformed the gravel stages into a muddy mess. Loeb survived though, and when day one leader, Mads Ostberg went off in the second test on Saturday and lost over a minute, he seized the advantage and was never headed.
Indeed he finished the second leg with a 27 second cushion and while he saw that cut to just 7 seconds at the finish, he held on to triumph.
It was Loeb's ninth win of the season and the 76th of his amazing career in the WRC, made all the more significant as next year he will step back and only do 3-5 events.
“I really wanted to win this rally,” Loeb admitted at the finish. “We struggled at the start because it was really tricky on the first day. On the tarmac I was able to take the lead but today was not easy because we had some strange tyre choices.”
Jari-Matti Latvala meanwhile was 'best of the rest' at the finish for Ford on what was the Blue Oval's final official outing in the championship, and also the Finn's final event with the M-Sport-run outfit as he will drive for Volkswagen next season.
Latvala put in a charge over the final day, but despite storming through the final three stages – and taking the Power Stage win - he was unable to overhaul Loeb.
“I have had some fantastic years with Ford and I want thank to [Ford boss] Malcolm Wilson for being so supportive even though I've had many, many crashes,” said Latvala.
Mikko Hirvonen was next up and completed the rostrum, albeit 1 minute 46.8 seconds adrift of his former team-mate: “Overall it has been a good year. We have learned a lot and are ready for next season now. It is going to be exciting and everyone will be fighting like hell to win the title,” he remarked.
Behind, Ostberg was fourth, but that wasn't enough to keep him third in the WRC drivers' championship and ahead of Latvala: “I am very happy with my season, but unfortunately this weekend was not perfect,” conceded the Adapta Ford WRT man. “I need to do more work on tarmac.”