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GP Week : Issue 52
Latvala hit the barriers on the final stage, a Superspecial, run literally within sight of the finish of the rally. It was a ghastly error, and the final page in a story book which grabbed the attention from start to finish … Latvala’s was not the only long face F to be seen. For the third time running, the man who normally does no wrong failed to deliver the expected goods. After a series of misfortunes in Sardinia and big crash in Greece, Sebastien Loeb missed four stages on the first day after going off the road and finished the rally under SupeRally rules. This left his Citroen Total team-mate Dani Sordo singlehandedly chasing the BP Ford team cars of Mikko Hirvonen and Latvala, before Sordo slid wide on a bend on the final day and settled for a safe third place, which then became second when Latvala went off. Loeb, meanwhile, gradually pulled back up the field, finishing seventh overall and fifth in the Make’s championship, a result achieved thanks to tactical co-operation from the Citroen Junior Team drivers Conrad Rautenbach and Evgeny Novikov. After a series of rallies in rougher and slower territory, the championship was back on faster, smoother stages. Rally Poland, missing from the World series for the last 36 years, was totally unknown to the championship drivers, a veritable level playing field. The sandy-surfaced stages in the northern lake district of Poland were fast but not damaging, so long as drivers were not tempted to cut the corners. The organisers tried to deter corner cutting, and to slow down some of the faster stretches, by placing straw bales at strategic points. 3 ord was happily in line for a third successive maximum points score in Poland when second-placed Jari-Matti Cutting a corner was what caught out Loeb. A tree stump lay obscured by grass. Up to the end of the fifth round of the 2009 championship there was no realistic hope for the Citroen Total team or their drivers Loeb and Sordo being beaten, but what a difference five weekends have made! Suddenly Hirvonen is now one point ahead of Loeb, and Citroen Total is now only 17 points in front of BP Ford in the Drivers and Makes championships respectively. With only four rounds remaining in the series, both aspects of the world championship have really come alive. Mikolajki is a developing leisure centre. The event started with a Thursday evening Superspecial stage around a spectacularly fast course built alongside the headquarters hotel. And it was a spectacular performance by Petter Solberg, still driving an eight year-old Xsara World Rally Car, that put him into an overnight lead. Loeb then took up the challenge on the first full day. In these conditions, running first car on the road was not the usual handicap and the World Champion immediately took over the lead, but Hirvonen passed him on Stage 3. On Stage 4 Loeb went off the road, Jari Matti Latvala was second and Dani Sordo then had the full weight of Citroen’s hopes on his shoulders. Behind these drivers came Norwegian privateer Andreas Mikkelsen in a Skoda Fabia WRC, before he suffered engine trouble, then a close fight for fourth place from the two Solberg brothers. Gradually Sebastien Ogier crept up and at the half way point passed them both. The rally now started to get really interesting. Ogier stopped on Stage 16, the penultimate orthodox stage, elevating Loeb ever closer to the Drivers championship points scoring regime and then Citroen Junior team driver Novikov was ordered to slow down and let Loeb past. Rautenbach then waited for similar orders to be given to him – in the end he was ordered to wait for over 10 minutes to let Loeb catch him up. The popular star of the rally was the Polish driver Krzysztof Holowczyc, a former European Champion and nowadays a rally raid expert, in between his political duties. He was driving a World Rally Car for the first time in four years and gradually discovered what a state of the art car, a Stobart team Focus WRC, could achieve. His eventual sixth place was only the second time in the history of the World Drivers’ championship that a driver from his nation had gained points in the series. White boots on a rally!