Last weekend saw Sebastien Loeb suffer his second did not finish in succession, setting the World Rally Championship up for a stunning finish with just two rounds remaining.

Loeb’s crash at Rally Australia was almost unheard of. His engine failure on his home event in France last weekend is something that just doesn’t happen to Citroen.

After seven world titles, we can now seriously wonder if the Frenchman’s reign as World Champion is about to come to an end.

2011 has shown us that while Loeb is still the man to beat, he’s not the sure thing he was 12 months ago. His team-mate, Sebastien Ogier, remains disgruntled with his treatment by the Citroen team, and this year he has proven time and again that he is at least a match for his more highly fancied team-mate.

Only three points separate the top three in the championship with only the Spanish tarmac rally and the gravel of Rally GB still to come. Loeb and Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen are tied for first place, with Ogier well within striking distance. It sets up a tremendous finale to the 2011 season.

Loeb remains the favourite because of his consistency, but both Ogier and Hirvonen will realistically be thinking that their first World Rally Championship title is just around the corner.

What can you say about the young Russian, Evgeny Novikov? After three crashes at Rally Australia (shakedown, day one and day three), the young ‘Crashikov’ did it again in the Rallye de France.
As the season has progressed, it’s not hard to see why Australian Dale Moscatt pulled the pin on his ride with Novikov a couple of seasons back. With a wife and young baby back home, Moscatt is obviously content with his decision.
The in-car footage of Novikov’s crashes has become must-see TV over the past couple of events, if only to watch the reaction of his co-driver, Dennis Giraudet.
Giraudet sat beside the mercurial Didier Auriol when he won the world title, so he’s been around a bit. He must now be wondering what he’s got himself in for.
It seems almost certain that Novikov will be looking for another new co-driver in the not too distant future.

We’ve all seen Ken Block’s brilliant Gymkhana series of videos, with his most recent hoon around Universal Studios in Los Angeles possibly his best yet.

The American’s entry in Rally Australia attracted a huge throng of new fans to rallying. These were people not particularly interested in Loeb or Solberg, but intent on catching a glimpse of the man whose videos have had millions of hits on YouTube.

The seasoned rally fan was quick to point out that Block’s rally driving skills were a long way short of those ahead of him on the leaderboard (and many behind him), yet from a promotional point of view, that’s beside the point.

Block’s entry into the World Rally Championship is perhaps the best thing that’s happened to the sport for many years. You only need to look at the number of spectators wearing Monster Energy clothing to realise the number of new fans he has brought to rallying.

At the moment, you could argue that rallying needs Ken Block more than Ken Block needs rallying. Let’s just hope the tall American is around for many seasons to come.

It was great to see the new MINI take its second podium place in a row, with Dani Sordo almost winning last weekend’s Rallye de France.
Top marks go to David Richards and the Prodrive team for building a car that has been competitive right out of the blocks. After the disaster of Prodrive and Subaru during their last few seasons, it’s great to see the British company back near the top.
It looks good for the future, and you’d expect VW to be just as competitive when they enter the WRC in 2013.
On the downside, have you ever heard such a ridiculous car name as “MINI John Cooper Works World Rally Car”?
Okay, so MINI (and why is it spelt with all capital letters?) are remembering the ‘Cooper S’ days, but why wouldn’t they have just called the car the Mini Cooper S WRC?
Let’s hope when they join the WRC full time in 2012, the name has been shortened considerably. But then again, if that’s the only thing to complain about at present, then the WRC is looking pretty strong.
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