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GP Week : Issue 137
WRC feature >> The 2011 rallying season is heading for most intense climaxes, with all but one of the major titles still undecided and only one month to go before the season comes to an end. The only odds-on bet is that Citroen Total World Rally Team will retain the manufacturer’s title. The other championships are not worth the risk of gambling on the result. The crashes of both Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier shook up the race for the world championship titles, for both manufacturers and for drivers, and the chances of an eighth successive drivers’ title for Loeb took a severe tumble when his engine failed in France, his second successive disaster. ‘Mister Untouchable’ suddenly became very much touchable. Why Ford, which started the season so well, effectively lost touch with Citroen is hard to define. They were unlucky in that several of their event- losing margins were very small, but the team suggested they lacked a killer instinct when they passed by the opportunity to argue for victory in Argentina. And nobody can fully understand why number one driver Mikko Hirvonen has been so off-form for so long. But what has been impressive is the way that they have remained competitive with Citroen despite the handicap of using a converted production car engine rather than a full ‘Global Engine’ design. Unlike rival Citroen, Ford has also been blessed with a happy team- driver relationship, in which Jari-Matti Latvala has twice made huge personal sacrifices in order to overcome misfortunes of teammate Mikko Hirvonen. The wonder of the championship is that Mikko is lying equal top of the drivers’ championship as the team head for the penultimate round of the series, after one of the most lack-lustre seasons in the memory of a top world championship driver. Hirvonen’s lack of form has privately exasperated Latvala, to the extent that Latvala had wanted Hirvonen to spend his energies on the rest of the rally, rather than the Power Stage where supplemental drivers championship points are this year on offer. But, what’s happening? Of Loeb’s 196 points, 178 have been gained from orthodox overall positions on rallies, while Hirvonen had gained 182. So, Mr Latvala, maybe you have been misjudging your teammate? Perhaps it is important for Hirvonen to concentrate on improving his Power Stage performance! At the moment, before Catalunya, Loeb and Hirvonen are equal on points, Ogier is third, three points behind – three drivers with three points between them. Pretty good! Both the manufacturers and the drivers championships could be settled in Spain, though for the drivers series this likely to continue through to the final round in Britain. One series which has to be decided in Spain is the SWRC, for which Rally Catalunya is the final round. Here we have another three-point cliff hanger. Skoda driver Juho Hanninen is that margin ahead of Ford driver Ott Tanak. Of the six events they have already contested (in fact always the same events, both having opted out of Jordan) the Estonian has won three against the Finn’s two, Tanak continuing to regret his crash in Greece when he could not finish, and which looks like being the deciding factor in the season. Juho however has not been immune to crashes. Twice (Germany and France) he lost wheels but each time he was able to finish, and because of low entry levels, each time he qualified as a finisher he scored valuable championship points. Hanninen is the favourite but should Tanak achieve the title, it will be a great occasion for the Estonian nation, the first time a driver from that country will achieve a world rally title. The series which can only be resolved at Rally GB is the Academy series. This time another Estonian, Egon Kaur (who has the tie-deciding results in his favour), is 20 points ahead of Irish driver Craig Breen. 20 is well short of a maximum score, which means a podium result for Kaur in GB will ensure Kaur’s title notwithstanding Breen’s placing. So the only major series which has already been sorted out is PCWRC, where Hayden Paddon has only to start in Spain and on Rally GB to be confirmed as Production Car world champion, which will again be the final challenge for Harry Hunt before he is confirmed as the FIA’s 2WD Cup title holder. Main Pic: Petter Solberg at last season’s Rally of Spain 43