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GP Week : Issue 69
SEBASTIEN Loeb gained his sixth successive sixth World Drivers' title and Citroen its 60th World Rally win at Rally GB, the final round of the 2009 World Rally Championship. It was a thrilling encounter, the final decisive moment coming on the penultimate stage of the season. Sunshine and heavy rain storms swept the southern counties of the Principality of Wales and added to the drama, with talk of broken windscreen wipers, huge puddles forming on the gravel forest tracks, but the main story was that the two Drivers' title contenders were unbeatable, Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen winning every stage between them. Dramas stretched all around through the entry. Ford had a testing time with a unprecedented series of broken driveshaft couplings on the first day, and on the final day Citroen's protege driver Sebastien Ogier lost fifth place when swerving to avoid rocks in the road which the storms and passing cars had dislodged. In the end, Citroen cars took three of the top four places. In other highlights, a remarkable drive to ninth place overall came from 21 year-old Eyvind Bynildsen who won the Group N and PCWRC categories in a Skoda Fabia S2000 while Ford Fiesta cars, driven by the German Patrick Anglade and the Turkish driver Emre Yurdakul both won their classes, while the R3 class was won by the turbocharged Peugeot 207 of Mattei Loic. But the happiest face of the season was that of Petter Solberg, coming home in fourth place after an incredibly tough privateer season, with the splendid memory of just beating his elder brother Henning in the series. The battle between Loeb and Hirvonen ended up as a classic world championship struggle -- one older driver who had achieved far more in his rallying career than anyone had ever done, the other younger driver reaching the top layers of his career for the first time. At the start there was nothing between the capabilities on the event of either driver and car. The championship would be decided by either errors or unforeseen eventualities. Right through Day 1 the two drivers were neck-and-neck, Loeb leading with a 5.3 seconds margin. On the first stage of Day 2 Hirvonen had reduced this to 2.9 second, when something happened that nobody yet understands, Hirvonen found his car just would not perform at its best on stages eight and nin., It behaved strangely and unpredictably: "Something wasn't right. I just couldnt' make good times and I really do not understand what went wrong," Mikko admitted. On these two stages the official split times told the story, a gradual reduction in Mikko's performance compared with that of Sebastien's. The BP Ford team came to Cardiff feeling cautiously confident. The British forests were home ground for the team but, right from the start, strange things were happening. On the first stage Jari-Matti Latvala had a sudden and dramatic failure of the driveshaft coupling and lost a lot of time. Then, later that morning, their number three car, driven by Khalid Al Qassimi, had the same problem. And on the long road section from Stage 6 back to the end-of-day service in Cardiff, Hirvonen suffered the same problem, although he was able to drive the car back to base. The problems suffered by Hirvonen on Day 2, however, did not tie up -- something else must have gone wrong, but the team, did not know what. Meanwhile Loeb was continuing his faultless flat- out progress, while Hirvonen was able later to regain his competitive speed albeit some 20-30 seconds behind. It seemed doubtful and he never gave up, but it was settled on the penultimate stage when his Focus' bonnet was dislodged 44