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GP Week : Issue 115
“I didn’t believe at the start of the rally that I could do it like this.” World Champion Sebastien Loeb entered, if it could ever be possible, a further level of greatness when he won the Rally Italia Sardegna, leading nearly all the way. That was nothing unusual, but this time he was always running first car on the road in conditions in which road cleaning was a paramount disadvantage. This was the moment he proved that his star was not sinking, that he was capable of achieving what rivals would never have thought possible. This second win of the 2011 season saw him resist an endless onslaught from Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen, who was always running behind him. Hirvonen was alone in this challenge after his teammate Jari-Matti Latvala had a first stage indiscretion, while Hir vonen himself misjudged a bend and had the first of two punctures that day as well. All this did Ford’s manufacturers’ championship challenge no favours. Hirvonen was also showing an unusual fire in his determination but eventually had to settle for second ahead of Citroen drivers Petter Solberg and Sebastien Ogier. The Citroen Total team pulled out a 17 point lead in the championship over the Ford Abu Dhabi team. Hirvonen, who won the Power Stage at the end of the event, ended the event seven points behind Loeb. This rally promised great excitement and did not disappoint. Most immediate centre of attention was the arrival of the Mini John Cooper Works WRC team, a third factor y team for the series, the first time the WRC version had been used in competition and the first appearance of the official BMW backed team. Four WRC version cars were entered – the works cars of Dani Sordo and Kris Meeke, the Brazil team car of Daniel Oliveira and the independently run car of Armindo Araujo, the latter two cars having been upgraded from S2000 specification for this event. There was a fifth Mini, a S2000 version driven by Patrik Flodin. None of the cars had a smooth run. Sticking throttle troubles plagued Meeke and Sordo, overheating troubles plagued Araujo, driveshaft trouble struck Oliveira, while a turbocharger failed on Flodin’s car. Meeke’s car was withdrawn after two days, the engineers still seeking to fathom out the difficulties experienced after his throttle trouble and then a water leak. Sordo came through to finish in a splendid sixth place, the smile on his face getting broader ever y day. Petter Solberg finished the best of the customer cars – leading initially before being slowed by a loose turbo pipe. Ogier was having a disappointing rally. Firstly he was the only driver to use tactics but that did not work the way he wanted, then was in line to finish third, behind Loeb and Hirvonen, but suffered suspension damage two stages from the finish. Mads Ostberg scored another impressive result, fifth place in his Fiesta. Among the cars not seen at the finish were Dennis Kuipers, Henning Solberg and the father and son Van Merksteijns. Kuipers had transmission failure on the last morning. Henning impacted a bridge and a metal barrier penetrated the side of the car smashing through the car’s inner wing to where he was carr ying spare cans of oil and hydraulic fluid. This caused a fire, which he was able to extinguish but which also wrecked the suspension. He carried on, but then later that day he landed heavily on a rock and wrecked the engine.