WRC drivers take to the go-kart track
- 22nd October 2010, 9:18am
The story was a familiar one. But the margin was tighter than ever. This time there was just four tenths of a second splitting him from his 60-time world rally-winning team-mate Sebastien Loeb.
But, for this event, the state-of-the-art Citroen C4 WRCs were replaced by karts, which appeared to be powered by everso-slightly asthmatic lawnmower engines. That their ride for the day had about the same amount of horsepower as, well a horse, mattered not a jot. It was competition.
There was plenty of frivolity among the drivers as they lined up at Karting Salou, just outside the service park for this week's WRC qualifier, but as soon as Monster World Rally Team driver Ken Block left the pits, the drivers all turned to watch. Kart one was on track.
Clearly, the road surface was cleaning; the Gymkhana megastar certainly swept at least one Mars bar wrapper from turn six on his way to, tenth fastest time. As well as cleaning, the circuit must have been 'rubbering-in' as the times tumbled with each driver who went out.
The biggest debate centred on the circuit's first right-hander. It was a fairly open 90-right in our language, but with a reasonably wide exit, it could be taken almost flat.
Almost flat or flat? Sebastien Ogier was sure it was flat. So he buried it. And almost buried himself in the tyre wall. He wasn't on the podium.
With typical professionalism, Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala took the whole process enormously seriously. After strapping his helmet around his race face, he knuckled down to some serious laps. Coming onto the start-finish straight, he huddled down over the steering wheel to improve airflow around man and machine.
It worked. He was on the podium. The bottom step, admittedly, but it spoiled Citroen's designs on another asphalt lock-out. The two steps above him belonged to Sordo and Loeb, however.
There's been a huge amount of talk about Sordo winning at home this week and this would have been the perfect precursor to a first World Rally Championship win on Sunday. But it wasn't to be. Despite his father owning a kart track and the boy Sordo being installed in a kart while he was still mastering the idea of putting one foot in front of another, Loeb beat him.
And it was another masterful display from the master of our sport. Having spent the previous half hour watching the other drivers and chatting on his mobile phone, Loeb zipped up his overalls, slid his Oakleys into place and did his thing.
Closer than anybody to the apex on entry and tyre wall on exit, the seven-time champion was predictably inch-perfect. Crossing the line on his final lap, he spun the kart around and let it roll backwards into the perfect parking space at the end of the pitlane. Is there nothing this man can't do? "It was a good result for Citroen," he told the television camera.
With that interview done, Loeb admitted he'd quite enjoyed himself. "I like the kart," he said. "But not this one. I prefer it with 125cc and a gearbox!"
And with that, he was gone. For the 61st time, the pint-sized Frenchman had left the world of world rallying trailing in his wake.
A worthy footnote to this latest tale of Loeb dominance is the new that, close as the finish to this karting time trial was - at four tenths of a second - it wasn't the closest ever. Marcus Gronholm's three-tenths victory over Loeb in New Zealand three years ago still stands. But only just.
Best lap times (seconds):
1. Sebastien Loeb 52.142
2. Dani Sordo 52.508
3. Jari-Maytti Latvala 52.621
4. Petter Solberg 52.789
5. Federico Villagra 53.011
6. Khalid Al Qassimi 53.233
7. Mikko Hirvonen 53.289
8. Sebastien Ogier 53.350
9. Matthew Wilson 53.472
10. Ken Block 53.936
Photos courtesy of www.wrc.com / McKlein
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