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GP Week : Issue 127
How to Lose Rallies in Three Easy Steps: Step 1; go off the road on the first stage. The fastest car in Finland was Mikko Hirvonen’s Ford, but two minutes were lost on the opening stages and he drove hard for the rest of the event just to finish fourth. Step 2; play tactics which backfire because you misjudge the weather conditions. Step 3:, take your manager’s lack of team orders to an extreme conclusion ... Only one driver emerged from the Neste Oil Rally Finland with credit and that was the World Champion Sebastien Loeb, but even he made a major tactical misjudgement. Loeb however got away with it. He has the lucky streak which helps overcome misjudgments. The overnight weather was unpredictably humid so the conditions on the last day’s roads were not what he – and everyone else – had feared. Curious decisions were not limited to the drivers. Citroen proudly announced there were to be no team orders – which their drivers took at face value, giving Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier the opportunity to try to out-do each other, even if this ended up risking gifting the rally to the rival Ford team. Luckily for their management, the personal feud between the two ‘Sebs’ had no more serious consequence than losing second place – Ogier finished third when they could have achieved a 1-2 result. Even the mid-event rebellion by their drivers could not stop Citroen scoring a record-breaking seventh successive victory in the 2011 World Championship when Loeb won the gravel-surfaced Neste Oil Rally Finland, having driven first car on the road each day, in conditions where humidity reduced the traditional disadvantage of driving first car in these conditions. Loeb found himself strongly challenged by his team- mate Ogier through the event, to the extent they both voluntarily incurred penalties to gain advantage over the other, despite this raising a risk of relinquishing outright victory to Ford driver Jari-Matti Latvala. In the end Loeb overcame his error, but Ogier’s tactic cost him dear, with a late puncture dropping him unceremoniously from a potential first to third place. Loeb went on to score Citroen’s 77th WRC win, equalling the record total score of rival Ford. This mammoth event which qualified for all three support championships attracted quite the biggest entry of any WRC over the past 10 years but the battle for the world championship titles is now going heavily the way of the French team. Hirvonen’s driving error on the first stage, damage from which then caused a puncture, left him coming back from 36th place, which left last year’s winner Latvala single-handedly representing the team. This was an event where servicing opportunities were limited and he struggled a long time with a set-up which he did not like. They call him The Streak ...