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GP Week : Issue 31
>>WRCcatalunya – a fifth successive World Rally Championship. Victory in Spain has put him 12 S points ahead of Mikko Hirvonen in the 2008 season, with just three events still to run. The Frenchman went into the lead at the start, with his ever faithful team-mate Dani Sordo right behind him, and three days later they finished just like that, with Sordo in second place for the 10th time in his career. Throughout the event Fords were lying third and fourth, this time with Francois Duval in a BP team car, and when the Citroens eased their pace at half distance, Mikko Hirvonen and Duval had the chance to show their pace. Duval was required to cede his third place to Hirvonen with two stages to run. While Loeb’s team started to calculate exactly how soon their driver would be unbeatable in the championship, Hirvonen analysed his failure. It had been a frustrating event. “For the first half of the event we were all at sea, nothing seemed to work with the car,”said the Finn. “The car seemed very easy to understeer. Then in the second half of the event I decided to slow down, not to push the car so much and it all started to go better. If only I had tried that earlier in the event.” Behind them the new Subaru World Rally Cars were gradually improving, but embarrassingly they were being split by the privately run Citroen C4 of Urmo Aava, who had risen to fifth place. The Estonian was having a splendid drive before he damaged his steering with two stages to go. Subarus were in line to finish fifth and sixth when Latvala, on this occasion in a Stobart car, recovered after a low start to pass Atkinson. But the Australian was suffering from the usual Subaru damper-related problems at the start of the event, and had been gradually speeding up. Latvala came to Spain low in confidence after a run of three disastrous rallies and the humiliation of being demoted to the Stobart team for the two remaining asphalt EBASTIEN Loeb is now well on his way to breaking the next record in his sensational career events. It was also difficult for him to get the best out of his 2007-spec car, but by the final day things were better and the usual laughing smile on the bespectacled face appeared. Both Suzukis finished the rally but neither were in the points. Toni Gardemeister had trouble fighting understeer while Per-Gunnar Andersson missed stages because he slipped off the road, albeit the car was undamaged on the first day where there were no spectators to help him. Aava’s performance had been a revelation, but other private drivers also went well. Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen avenged his embarrassing national championship-losing mistake the weekend before by bringing his Ford home in eighth place, ahead of the official World Championship team drivers Matthew Wilson, Henning Solberg and Federico Villagra, as well as the two Suzukis. Brice Tirabassi drove his rented works Subaru into 10th, good experience for his challenge on home territory next weekend in Corsica. This was also the first asphalt World Championship event for Mads Ostberg, and he finished 14th, ahead of the fellow Subaru driver Eamonn Boland. The charismatic Dutch father and son drivers van Merksteijn were fighting each other furiously. Less than a second separated after two stages before Junior went off the road, and Father eased his speed, but suffered engine failure on the final day. The Dutchman Jasper van den Heuvel (Mitsubishi) finished highest placed Group N car after the similar cars of Eyvind Brynildsen and Juho Hanninen were respectively struck with steering trouble and transmission problems. Catalunya was the first of the two late-season back-to-back asphalt events, events where Citroen World Rally Cars have proved unbeatable in recent years. Ford’s devastating defeat in New Zealand five weeks ago provided the French manufacturer with great confidence that they would regain the constructor’s World title back from BP Ford well before the end of the year, while Loeb proved once again he was in a galaxy of his own. 41