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GP Week : Issue 127
As for Citroen, it was a quite extraordinary scenario for the world champion team. Team director Olivier Quesnel had nothing publicly to say about the unbridled rivalry between his drivers, except to confirm that there were no team orders, and to say that, anyway, a 1-3 result in territory which traditionally had favoured Ford was not so bad. Rally Finland was good news in other ways. The event saw the debut appearance of the Volkswagen Motorsport team. It was the start of this company’s plan for a return to world championship rallying, due to become fully effective in 2013. Now was the time to start their candidate driver assessment scheme, in which they ran Skoda Fabia S2000 cars, this time for Andreas Mikkelsen and Joonas Lindroos. And, after their initial appearance in Sardinia in May, the BMW Mini team started their regular programme, with contracted drivers Dani Sordo and Kris Meeke. With two new manufacturers at the top level there was a spirit of rebirth for the WRC, even if none of these four cars on this occasion reached the finish. The curiously towering Minis looked good till just before the end. Sordo rose as high as fifth place while Meeke, with a lot less experience of the event, also made top six stage times. Then came trouble on the final day, when the rally twice used much softer sur faced stages from which mud and stones blocked the radiators and led to overheating. Their valuable experience however had already been gained, and the cars were withdrawn just before the finish. There were a total of six Minis on the event. Armindo Araujo, Daniel Oliveira and Mattias Therman all qualified as finishers but Matti Rantanen crashed on Stage 2 after making an impressive sixth best time on Stage 1. The VW team Skodas ran independent of the SWRC cars but saw a strong performance by Mikkelsen until he impacted a hole in the road which damaged the radiator. Lindroos, however, had an unhappier event, going off the road twice in the first eight stages. However mischievous had been Loeb’s personally-inspired and wrongly-conceived tactic, this error simply enhanced his evident brilliance, shrugging off the challenge of running first car on the road every day. His defining moment came on Day 3. After finding his teammate had manipulated him into more unwelcome first-car driving, he immediately spotted that the long final day’s stages unexpectedly helped rather than hindered the first runner. Loeb put on a stunning performance to win the opening stage of the day by 6.4 seconds, making it clear that his seven world titles were his rightful property. Beyond the official Citroens and the Abu Dhabi Fords, no other drivers were in the same league. On this occasion fifth placed Petter Solberg struggled in his Citroen, another casualty of reduced opportunities of servicing to adjust his set-up, and in the end he only just beat the private Fiesta WRC of the younger Norwegian Mads Ostberg. Despite unexpected defeat, Ford’s morale remained high, bolstered by the presence in the service park of an impressively big hospitality structure. Five Fords finished in the top eight places, but once again at the wrong end of the leader board. Away from the Abu Dhabi WRC team, privateer Fiesta drivers were plentiful. Jari Ketomaa impressively won the first stage but then went off the road on Day 2 when lying fifth ahead of Mads Ostberg. Ostberg achieved another amazing per formance, heading the far more experienced Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson in identical cars. Evgeniy Novikov had to stop due to a loose crankshaft pulley. Germany comes next, territory where Citroens are strong favourites having won the event on each of the nine occasions the event has been held in the last ten years.