While there is some debate about when France came into existence, records suggest the country has crowned a total of 76 kings. In the World Rally Championship, for which Pirelli is the official tyre supplier under a three-year agreement with motorsport's world governing body, the FIA, there have been two French 'kings' or, rather, world champions: Didier Auriol and Sebastien Loeb.

Loeb, the current ruler, has held the prestigious honour for the last six seasons and is chasing his seventh successive title in 2010 with his factory-prepared Citroen C4 World Rally Car, which uses Pirelli's Scorpion tyre.

On Rally de Portugal, which ended with a superspecial stage through Faro's Estadio Algarve on Sunday afternoon, a pretender to Loeb's throne emerged by the name of Sebastien Ogier. Aged 26, Ogier became the 18th different French driver to win a world championship rally when he held his nerve to beat his elder statesman by 7.9 seconds after more than 350 kilometres of gruelling gravel stages.

"It's a fantastic feeling, really fantastic," said Ogier, who was co-driven by fellow Frenchman Julien Ingrassia. "Sebastien Loeb is the best driver in the world and it's always difficult to conserve the lead when he is behind you. But we pushed hard for all the rally and managed to keep him behind."

Ogier's maiden WRC victory occurred on one of the most challenging rallies of the season due to the extremely abrasive nature of the gravel roads, which run over a punishing bedrock base. To make matters worse, ground temperatures hovered around the 39 degrees centigrade mark with ambient temperatures rarely dipping below 30 degrees centigrade.

"It was a very hard rally for the Pirelli tyre because the roads are very rough and abrasive but the performance of the tyre has been good," said Ogier. "I drove more cleanly than usual to keep the performance of the tyre consistent. I was never aggressive with the throttle and always smooth with the steering wheel and that made a big difference."

Loeb, who maintains a firm grip on the drivers' standings, was full of praise for Ogier at the finish. "I tried to beat him but he was just too fast. I have a new rival now. Regarding my tyres, I have to say they have been going well here because we have a very hard surface. It's particularly tough on the second pass of the longer stages. You can't push as you want but we understand the tyre has to be used for different types of rally, not just this rally."

Christian Loriaux, the technical director of the Ford team, which ran Mikko Hirvonen to fourth place, said driving style had made a big difference to the levels of tyre wear on the event. "Obviously there are differences between the cars but driving style, such as when a driver decides to push or back off, was a significant factor in this result and something drivers, on abrasive stages like in Portugal, have to be clever with. Of course we don't want to come to the end of a stage with worn tyres but we understand it can happen on a rally as challenging as this."

Matteo Braga, Pirelli's senior WRC tyre engineer, said: "The stages were very tough and the temperatures were very high so I am very pleased with the performance of our tyres because really the hard compound Scorpion tyre we used here is a compromise due to the control tyre regulations we adhere to. Like the drivers and engineers, we knew before the start of the rally that there would be tyre wear issues. We have seen that the drivers who managed their tyres effectively for the whole stage distance were richly rewarded, such as Sebastien Ogier who drove very fast under pressure and managed his tyres perfectly."

Rally de Portugal marked the second of six events for the five Pirelli Star Drivers, who are taking their first steps of world championship rallying as part of a career progression initiative run jointly by Pirelli and the FIA. New Zealander Hayden Paddon was once again the highest-placed finisher after Estonian Ott Tanak retired from 14th overall when he inflicted terminal damage to his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X after striking a rock, which had been pulled into the road on Sunday's second stage.

In the Pirelli-supplied Super 2000 World Rally Championship, Jari Ketomaa claimed his second successive victory with a Ford Fiesta. Ketomaa has a separate agreement for a supply of Pirelli Scorpion tyres as a reward for winning last season's Finnish Rally Championship. Second place for Xevi Pons was enough to keep the Spaniard at the top of the title standings.

Dutch driver Kevin Abbring took the honours in the Junior World Rally Championship at the wheel of a Renault Clio R3 on Pirelli tyres, while the Pirelli-supported Fiesta SportTrophy International laurels went to Abu Dhabi's Majed Al Shamsi, after German driver Christian Riedemann broke a steering arm in the closing stages while leading comfortably.

There was more success for Pirelli on the Rallye de Portugal Revival, which ran behind the main event for two-wheel drive cars built before 1982. Four-time world champion Juha Kankkunen, reunited with former navigator Nicky Grist, who once partnered rally legend Colin McRae, took victory in a Ford Escort Mk2 using Pirelli's K2 gravel tyre.

Pirelli's Rally de Portugal victories

1974: Raffaele Pinto/Arnaldo Bernacchini (Fiat 124 Abarth)

1975: Markku Alén/Ilkka Kivimäki (Fiat 124 Abarth)

1976: Sandro Munari/Silvio Maiga (Lancia Stratos)

1977: Markku Alén/Ilkka Kivimäki (Fiat 131 Abarth)

1978: Markku Alén/Ilkka Kivimäki (Fiat 131 Abarth)

1980: Walter Röhrl/Christian Geistdörfer (Fiat 131 Abarth)

1981: Markku Alén/Ilkka Kivimäki (Fiat 131 Abarth)

1987: Markku Alén/Ilkka Kivimäki (Lancia Delta HF 4WD)

1991: Carlos Sainz/Luís Moya (Toyota Celica GT-Four)

1995: Carlos Sainz/Luís Moya (Subaru Impreza 555)

1998: Colin McRae/Nicky Grist (Subaru Impreza WRC)

2000: Richard Burns/Robert Reid (Subaru Impreza WRC)

2009: Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena (Citroën C4 WRC)

2010: Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Citroën C4 WRC)


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