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GP Week : Issue 11
S EBASTIEN Loeb soared into rallying’s stratosphere when he won the Rally d’Italia for the third time in four years – his 40th WRC victory. It wasn’t his easiest, however. Conditions were unpredictable and surface grip was forever changing, along with the factory Ford drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala hounding the Citroen throughout the event. To make matters harder, Loeb’s team-mate Dani Sordo was stricken by traction problems and was therefore unable to give his leader full support. As a result, Citroen Total and the BP Ford Abu Dhabi team ended the rally scoring the same total number of points, meaning the Fords are still seven points ahead, while Loeb reduced Hirvonen’s lead in the Drivers’ title to three points. Fastest driver of the rally was, however, Latvala, but his chances of victory were ended by a puncture on the second day. E verything pointed to another classic Ford versus Citroen battle, and we were not disappointed. Latvala shot into the lead on the first stage, then slid into a bank, which caused a tyre to deflate on the second. This let Loeb into a lead that he held to the end. “I was second car on the road on Day 1 and first car the rest of the event,” he said. “It was completely unpredictable how the roads would clear away the loose gravel on the first pass. When we came to the second passes, sometimes the road got better, sometimes the conditions would be even worse.” Although the Citroens were neatly running 1-2 on the Friday, the Spaniard Sordo started to drop back on the Saturday with his TC problems, letting the two Ford drivers into second and third place. But who was Ford’s number one? Latvala, who exactly one year ago had led a world rally for the first time, was showing clearly that the fastest Ford driver was not necessarily Hirvonen, especially as the older Finn struggled to make good times early on. After his stage two mishap, Latvala was proving to be the fastest driver on the event. His puncture had dropped him to 14th, by Friday evening he was seventh. By midday Saturday he was third, behind Hirvonen, and by the end of Day 2 he was equal second. Much of the championship hopes of the BP Ford Abu Dhabi team, in fact, rested on the shoulders of the Stobart team driver Gigi Galli, who they needed to stay in fourth place in order to reduce the number of points which Sordo could gain. Galli was going well, but was feeling hampered by Stobart’s traditional lack of pre-event testing. “When you do not test beforehand, it takes you a day before you get back up to competitive speed.” Matthew Wilson, this time running as the official number two Stobart driver, had a brand new car, and it took a long time before the set up was adjusted to suit him. F or the final leg, Stewards decided Latvala’s first stage win meant he was to be second car running on the road behind Loeb, therefore suffering worse road conditions than Hirvonen. Loeb lost a lot of time on the first stage and it momentarily looked as if he would lose the lead, but then he pulled back on the second. Hirvonen was able to pull ahead of Latvala, who suffered a bad vibration after hitting a rock. Even three stages from the end any one of the top three drivers could win, quite amazingly. But finally the order was Loeb, Hirvonen and Latvala. Loeb’s 40th win puts him into quite unchartered territory. He has gained around 150 percent more wins than anyone else has achieved in rallying, and has quelled rumours that he might just be suffering a motivation shortfall. By the end of the event, Citroen chief Olivier Quesnel reckoned that was rubbish. “If he has been driving on this rally like when he was demotivated, heaven help all of us the moment Sebastien regains his motivation!” WRC ITALIA >> 39