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GP Week : Issue 133
Fordendedtherunofeight consecutive rally wins by Citroen when Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala cruised to take a 1-2 victory in Australia, after the Citroens of Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier both went off the road on Day 1. Both teams manipulated the results to enhance the Drivers’ Championship chances of Hirvonen and Loeb respectively, giving Hirvonen his third consecutive win on the event, all in different locations. With two rounds to go, New Zealander Hayden Paddon clinched the PCWRC series while the private British driver Harry Hunt became unbeatable in the FIA’s Two-Wheel- Drive Cup, his second FIA title in as many years. NosoonerhadSebastienLoeb,who had just taken the lead, said that the conditions on Day 1 had been made very slippery by overnight rain and this was no place to make a mistake, than that is exactly what he did. Glancing momentarily at his dashboard display to check on his split time, he braked too late and found his Citroen hitting a bank and rolling down the road. Ogier, who had led after the two Thursday night Superspecial stages, took over the lead for the second rally running, but then on the first stage of the second loop on the full Day 1, he slid wide and went straight into a tree. From then onwards Fords were leading the rally 1-2 – the boots were on unfamilar feet. Having taken missed-stage SupeRally penalties into account, and on account of the large number of drivers who had also suffered in the treacherous Day 1 conditions, Ogier finished the day in 16th place and Loeb in 23rd. After long hours of night-time repair work at the service park, both Citroen Total cars were more or less ready to return to the fray for Day 2. Regaining lost positions, however, was not easy. After the long Day 2 Ogier had only climbed up to 11th and Loeb 17th. Thehardrealitiesofchampionshiplifebecame apparent on Day 3. Ford had long stated that Latvala had blown his championship hopes earlier in the season, and Hirvonen was their better hope for a Ford world rally title this year. So with one stage to go Latvala stopped for a half minute and allowed Hirvonen to go to the top of the leader board. Then Citroen played tactics as well. Ogier incurred a jump start penalty (10 second), checked voluntarily into a control five minutes late (another 50 seconds) and then stopped on a stage for over nine minutes. This dropped him at the end from his ninth place to 11th but elevated Loeb from his 12th place up to tenth, bringing the guarantee of at least one Drivers’ Championship point. Loeb then augmented this with another three points at the Power Stage. Other drivers were in a different event. Petter Solberg hung on in third place, frustrated at his unrequited dream of being able to challenge the Fords, heading his brother Henning who was sidelined at mid-distance with an electrical fault. This then elevated the Fiesta drivers Matthew Wilson and Khalid Al Qassimi into fourth and fifth paces, as high in the WRC as they had achieved in their earlier careers and behind these five World Rally Cars there came the battling PCWRC cars. Novikov had a couple of minor driving indiscretions but continued only to have a big one on the final day when lying tenth, creating high tension in-car. Exasperated co-driver Giraudet exclaimed “Some day you are going to have to listen to me!” Ken Block went off the road early on Day 1 but rejoined to finish far down the field, as did Henning Solberg who had gone on to roll the car and later suffer a double puncture. Daniel Oliveira lost time earlier in the event off the road, then, on Day 3, his Mini John Cooper Works WRC crashed into a tree and retired. The decision to travel a long way up-country to a new location was enjoyed. Coffs Harbour emerged as a popular venue, the stages providing most of the challenges, including roads which skirt close by very immovable trees, though not with the ball-bearing stones which proliferated the roads in the earlier rallies in Western Australia. What came as a surprise was the weather. After glorious days before the rally, the arrival of rain clouds on Day 1 turned the fast, slippery and abrasive roads into something akin to an ice-rink, made worse because an early decision was taken that championship drivers had to be supplied with hard compound tyres. While Citroen Total and Sebastien Loeb still lead their respective championships, their leads have been significantly reduced over Ford and Mikko Hirvonen respectively. In the Manufacturers’ series Citroen now lead by 62 points which does not seriously dent their title chances. Among the one-car teams, the exclusion of Raikkonen’s Ice 1 Racing team sees the Petter Solberg team now 66 points ahead of the Villagra’s Munchi’s team. The Drivers’ standings took a complete change with Loeb’s lead over Hirvonen now just 15 points with Ogier another14 points further back. In the PCWRC Hayden Paddon became the first FIA World champion of the season, being now unbeatable with four wins in the category, while the absent Martin Semerad retains second place. WRC AUSTRALIA >> 45