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GP Week : Issue 66
CITROEN Total s impressive 1-2 domination on this asphalt event brought them another Manufacturers' championship title, the company's fifth in all, but hopes that Loeb could win another Drivers' title are still on hold. With one round to go, BP Ford driver Mikko Hirvonen leads Loeb by just one point, so it will be winner-take-all at Rally GB. From Ford's perspective nothing went wrong apart from the fact that the Focus World Rally Cars just were not fast enough to beat their rival C4 WRCs,, but there was strong optimism that the gravel roads in Wales will bring compensation. This was an amazing six-car race, the four Citroen C4 WRCs of Loeb, his team-mate Dani Sordo, their colleague Petter Solberg, plus Citroen Junior Team driver Sebastien Ogier, against the Fords of Hirvonen and his teammate Jari-Matti Latvala. Until the short final stage of the rally, Citroen drivers won every stage. Loeb and Sordo kept incredibly close station throughout. For more than a day, the biggest gap in overall times between them was 2.1 second and each held the lead equally through the event. And team orders never happened -- Loeb and Sordo knew the score; they had to finish ahead of the Fords. Hirvonen knew the best he could realistically achieve was third, which he did. Latvala knew he had to finish come what may and, if possible, beat Citroen Junior driver Ogier, which in fact was not possible. There were tactical plans afoot for this critical event. Citroen finally agreed that Petter Solberg could drive a C4, a much more competitive car than the old Xsara WRC he had been using earlier in the year. Running on this occasion as a non-championship registered driver, Petter might just play a role in spoiling the overall Drivers' championship hopes of Hirvonen, but in fact, it never came to that. And the decision to nominate Petter for the final round in Britain was intended to help block the manufacturers' championship hopes of BP Ford Abu Dhabi, but in fact Citroen Total got their title anyway. Tactics weren't needed this time, but they had been discussed. Ford management pondered the possibilities of asking Hirvonen to drop back a place in the final standings, allowing Citroen cars to take the top three places. This would force Loeb into the lead of the series (by one point) and to have to start first car on the road on the first day of Rally GB. The wisdom of years prevailed. British weather was deemed too unpredictable to take such a risk! The other World Rally car drivers were a million miles behind. Best was Matthew Wilson, over four minutes 44