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GP Week : Issue 84A
WRC PORTUGAL >> The Rally of Portugal provided one of the most major upsets in recent times when the six times World Champion, and Citroen's number one driver was unable to stop the Citroen Junior driver Sebastien Ogier from winning. Ogier's arrival at the top of the podium was the rst time a new driver has scored a World Rally win since Jari-Matti's debut win in Sweden in 2008, the year when Ogier's international career was starting and the year when Citroen Racing director Olivier Quesnel joined the team. Portugal provided a magni cent display of the superior dynamic balance of their C4 World Rally cars, able to handle the highly abrasive surface of the gravel stages in a superior way to the Fords. And, except for a moment of indiscretion by Petter Solberg on the nal Superspecial stage which elevated Mikko Hirvonen's Ford up to fourth, they would have achieved a 1-2-3-4 result. Except for Mikko Hirvonen's victory on the opening night-time Superspecial and Villagra's similar performance when the rally ended again at the stadium, the Fords were out of the frame. A predictable stage cleaning scenario on the gravel stages which formed the heart of the event gave an early advantage to later runners, enabling fourth-running Sebastien Ogier to lead after the rst loop of virgin stages, ahead of sixth running Dani Sordo and third running Hirvonen. At this point, front-runner Sebastien Loeb was fth. As these stages were 'cleaned' Ogier held his lead while Loeb moved up to third. Running rst car on the road on the second day was to be the iron test for Ogier, and he impressed. Onlookers expected his lead to dwindle quickly and dramatically, but this didn't happen. After the rst loop of three stages on Day 2, Ogier's 25 second lead had only dropped to 22 seconds. Jari-Matti Latvala had started to make his attack, scoring a second fastest time on the opening stage of the rst day, but then went o the road, damaging the car too much to be allowed to continue. That was just the disaster that Ford, in these trying conditions, could have done without. At the end of Day 2, Ogier still held a lead of 21 seconds from Loeb. The champion could see the signs written on walls... Give Loeb his due; he continued to do his best on Day 3 and, now running second through the stages, he had the advantage over Ogier but could not gain enough to snatch victory. In the rst two stages of the nal day Ogier's advantage was down to 10 seconds. Fresh tyres were tted for the nal time. Whoever balanced their performance with the longevity of their tyres to best advantage over these stages would win. In the end it was to be Ogier. Petter Solberg admitted he had been overdriving which led to wasted time and dropped to fourth. Mikko Hirvonen struggled as he tried his utmost but his only reward was worn-out tyres, with treads peeling o -- only one more misadventure from Petter Solberg enabled him even to nish fourth. Championship positions after round six makes depressing reading for Ford. While Citroen cars ran an incident free event, Ford had an unhappy time. Henning Solberg stopped with a broken alternator belt, which attened the battery and allowed the engine to overheat; while Ken Block also went o the road and damaged the roll cage again, preventing him from carrying on.For rallying purists the most encouraging thing was that Citroen achieved its success without a hint of tactics. Citroen's team manager Sven Smeets said: "In conditions like these, when stages are as long as these are, the performance on the stages are determined more by tyre management than by tactics. Sebastien Loeb had the face of someone who rather hoped that an element of tactics might be seen, if it was in his favour, but his team director Olivier Quesnel was resolute: "This time the fastest driver will win, and I think people will enjoy what they see!" When Citroen no longer found they had a serious challenge from Ford, the luxury of running a tactic free rally was easier to live with. Did Ogier deserve to win? The nal double-length side-by-side Superspecial at the end of the rally told everything we needed to know. On that stage Ogier beat Loeb by 0.2 seconds! 43