Frenchman Sebastian Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena have again extended their advantage in the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers with a 54 second winning margin in the weekend’s Rally of Turkey, this season’s fourth event.

Loeb’s win, the third in as many events, also extends Citroen’s lead in the manufacturers’ title. Fellow Citroen driver Petter Solberg and co-driver Phil Mills finished second while BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen had a challenging run to finish third.

The three days of competition on rocky roads north-east of Istanbul, near the Black Sea coastline, proved a tough test for cars and teams. Rally of Turkey was the first event to utilise new championship regulations allowing a mix of tarmac and gravel stages – a point also utilised by Rally New Zealand next month – and the specified Pirelli Scorpion tyres also came under pressure on very rocky sections.
 
With Loeb seeded first and having to sweep the road for following competitors, the rally’s first couple of stages saw the lead move between Solberg and Hirvonen with Citroen Junior Team driver Sébastien Ogier the overnight leader. Loeb’s team-mate Dani Sordo was second, Hirvonen third, Solberg fourth, Loeb fifth and Hirvonen’s Ford team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala sixth after intense competition which saw the top six cars covered by just 27sec.

By the end of day two, Loeb had the lead with a margin of just 17.3sec. Saturday’s action saw Latvala roll just one kilometre into the day’s first stage, sliding down the leader-board to 17th. After repairs he finished the day 12th and eventually improved to finish eighth.

Torrential rain overnight turned two of Sunday’s stages into a mud-bath, forcing officials to cancel their use and thus severely limiting the opportunity of Loeb’s competitors to challenge his lead. Loeb was able to stave off any challengers on the remaining four stages, cruising through the final stage to his 57th WRC victory.

“This victory gives me a lot of pleasure, as I won it in a rally where, from a sporting point-of-view, the outcome of the battle was very indecisive for a long time,” said Loeb. “The route was a real challenge with some very quick sections and others in which you had to nurse the car. Once again, the reliability of the C4 WRC was a huge help. This third win on the trot has helped us to make the break in the world championship as we now have forty points in hand over our nearest rival.”

Finishing second overall elevates 2003 World Rally Champion Petter Solberg to second in the driver standings.
“This is just unbelievable! I mean second in Turkey is one thing, but we are also second in the championship now,” said Solberg on his website. “It is so great to know that we actually can be up there fighting for wins and make it. I have not been flat-out all weekend, but backed off [in] some places, just to be on the safe side. I’m really looking forward to Rally New Zealand now.

Despite puncturing a tyre on the final day, Hirvonen’s third in Turkey maintains his third position in the championship, albeit now 41 points behind Loeb.

Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia finished fourth, with former Formula 1 champion Kimi Raikkonen and co-driver Kaj Lindstrom fifth – their best ever result.

“I feel more and more confident with the Citroen C4 WRC,” Raikkonen said. “I’m very happy with the pace that we are able to maintain without taking any risks. We are able to get closer now to the drivers who are in front of us, which is our key objective.”

Of note, Dennis Kuipers (24) was the first Dutch driver since 1995 to score WRC driver points in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), finishing in a credible ninth position overall in Turkey. Driving a Ford Fiesta Super 2000, Kuipers won the Group N and the S2000 category.

Rally of Turkey was also the opening round of this year’s Junior World Rally Championship (JWRC). German Suzuki driver Aaron Burkart overcame treacherous conditions, exposed rocks and torrential rain in his Swift Super 1600 to win the round.

The event featured New Zealanders Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard in their first event for the Pirelli Star Driver team. Paddon turned in some encouraging times to finish the best of the five Pirelli Star Driver crews in the overall classification, albeit using the SupeRally regulations to restart the event on day two after going off the road in the very first stage. Pirelli Star Driver team-mate Ott Tänak, from Estonia, set the pace for the first two days, and ran in the top ten overall, before crashing heavily on the final morning.

“Like some of our team-mates, we had a tough start to the event,” said the 22-year-old Paddon. “We came over a crest in the first stage, flat out and found the road blocked by a chicane. The chicane had been in the road book, but we hadn’t noted it. From Saturday morning on when we were back in the event, the rally was about me feeling comfortable with the car – making it like a glove. I really got that feeling on the final stage of Saturday and it was great.”

Now returning to New Zealand, Paddon will be followed by the entire World Rally Championship entourage as they prepare for the fifth round of the season, Rally New Zealand, running from 6 to 9 May.

Results: Rally of Turkey 16 – 18 April
1, Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena, Citroën C4 WRC, 3 hr 01 min 38.7sec
2, Petter Solberg/Phil Mills, Citroën C4 WRC, 3 hr 02 min 33.2sec
3, Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen, Ford Focus RS WRC, 3 hr 03 min 22.1sec
4, Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia, Citroën C4 WRC, 3 hr 05 min 24.7sec
5, Kimi Räikkönen/Kaj Lindstrom, Citroën C4 WRC, 3 hr 08 min 23.0sec
6, Federico Villagra/Jose Diaz, Ford Focus RS WRC, 3 hr 09 min 35.4sec
7, Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin, Ford Focus RS WRC, 3 hr 10 min 08.5sec
8, Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila, Ford Focus RS WRC, 3 hr 21 min 22.9sec
9, Dennis Kuipers/Frederic Miclotte,  Ford Fiesta S2000, 3 hr 25 min 00.9sec
10, Aaron Burkart/Andre Kachel, Suzuki Swift S1600, 3 hr 28 min 43.4sec

FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers (after 4 of 13 rounds)
1, Sébastien Loeb (FRA), 93 points
2, Petter Solberg (NOR), 53 points
3, Mikko Hirvonen (FIN), 52 points
4, Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN), 47 points
5, Sébastien Ogier (FRA), 45 points

FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers (after 4 of 13 rounds)
1, Citroën Total World Rally Team, 126 points
2, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team, 111 points
3, Citroën Junior Team, 75 points
4, Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team, 56 points
5, Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team, 26 points
 

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