50 WRC wins for Sebastien Loeb
- 16th March 2009, 8:27am
The crew of the NÂ°1 Citroen C4 WRC led from flag to flag to notch up the 50th world class win of their careers. Fourth place for Dani Sordo and Marc Marti has taken Citroen further clear at the top of the Manufacturersâ€™ World Championship standings.
Despite an overnight lead of 49 seconds, Loeb couldnâ€™t afford to control from in front.
â€œI wasnâ€™t getting Mikko Hirvonenâ€™s split times, so I had to push quite hard to make sure he didnâ€™t get too close,â€ related the five-time World Champion at the remote service park in Anadiou. â€œThere was a lot of mud about, but we survived unscathed.â€
The final stage didnâ€™t produce any last-minute drama and Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena were able to savour their third win from three since the start of the season.
â€œTo have reached our half-century is nice, but itâ€™s just another statistic. To tell the truth, my thoughts are already turned to our 51st win! This rally went well for us from start to finish. Our C4 WRC handled perfectly, both on the loose and on asphalt,â€ said Loeb.
Second placed Hirvonen fought hard throughout the second and third days of the event but were unable to bridge the gap to Loeb created by the Frenchman on day one.
Hirvonen found it hard to adapt to driving on asphalt with a gravel set-up on his Focus RS WRC during the opening morning on Friday and ended the day in third, 60.2sec from the lead. Once the rally moved onto gravel the 28-year-old Finn felt more at home and beat Loeb on six of the remaining eight stages as he ate into the Frenchmanâ€™s deficit.
He moved into second Saturday morning and eventually finished 1min 22.2sec clear of his closest rival after 14 tests covering 332.07km.
â€œI lost my chance of victory on Friday morning because I didnâ€™t drive well enough,â€ he said. â€œOnce the rally moved onto gravel I was faster than Loeb and thatâ€™s a big boost as there are now seven consecutive loose surface events to come. On the wet and muddy roads our pace was pretty much equal, but on the drier sections I was quicker and itâ€™s a shame that the heavy rain fell when it did.â€
â€œI made some small mistakes with my car set-up because I tried to be too clever. I will do things differently on the next round in Portugal. The last time I was in Cyprus I finished more than five minutes behind Loeb so to bring that down to 27sec is good progress,â€ observed Hirvonen.
Latvala was only 3.4sec behind Hirvonen when the 23-year-old Finn beached his car in sand on the inside of a corner on Saturdayâ€™s second stage. He had to run 1km to find enough spectators to lift the car out and fell from fourth to 25th.
He bounced back to set competitive times throughout the rest of the rally and his efforts were rewarded with two points for Ford in the manufacturersâ€™ championship.
â€œI was pleased with my speed this weekend but disappointed to make a mistake yesterday,â€ he said. â€œThis was my first time here so Iâ€™m happy to take away the experience of having driven all the stages. They were more difficult than I expected because there are so many changes in character but they werenâ€™t as rough as I thought.â€
â€œIâ€™ve learned another lesson here and I want to deliver some solid results over the next few rallies on a surface I like,â€ he added.
The highlight of the event though was the performance of former World Rally Champion Petter Solberg. The Norwegian, on only his second outing as a team owner/driver, improved from sixth on the opening day to claim the third place on the podium behind Loeb and Hirvonen.
â€œI was so pleased with our stage win in Norway, but this is even more amazing!â€ said the Norwegian as he jumped down from the roof of his car.
â€œEverybody in the team - all the mechanics - have done an incredible job. Weâ€™ve only got 11 people in our team and theyâ€™ve all worked unbelievably hard to get us here. The build up to this rally was just as stressful as it was in Norway. I know this is an old car, and maybe Citroen would like to finish ahead, but they should be proud about how good the Xsara still is.â€
Citroenâ€™s Dani Sordo backed off on the closing stages to secure maximum points for his team, while Matthew Wilson netted fifth after an intense fight with Citroen Junior driver Sebastien Ogier which resulted in the young Frenchman crashing off the road with just 1km remaining in the final stage.
The Championship stays on gravel when Rally de Portugal returns to the series after a yearâ€™s absence from April 2nd to 5th. The fourth Round will be based at Faro on the Algarve.
1. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen C4 WRC) 4h50:34.7
2. Mikko Hirvonen (Ford Focus WRC RS) +27.2
3. Petter Solberg (Citroen Xsara WRC) +1:49.4
4. Dani Sordo (Citroen C4 WRC) +2:26.3
5. Matthew Wilson (Ford Focus WRC RS) +6:41.0
6. Conrad Rautenbach (Citroen C4 WRC) +11:11.9
7. Federico Villagra (Ford Focus WRC RS) +13:18.5
8. Khalid Al Qassimi (Ford Focus WRC RS) +13:44.1
9. Patrik Sandell (Skoda Fabia S2000) +19:36.6
10. Armindo Araujo (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo) +19:54.9
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