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GP Week : Issue 139
Citroen clinched their seventh world rally Manufacturers’ title in nine years when Sebastien Loeb cruised home to win in most extraordinary circumstances in Spain. Despite finishing second and third, Ford lost out in the title race by three points. Once again, Ford tactics kept Mikko Hirvonen artificially in the running for the World Drivers’ title, with help for the third time this season from teammate Jari-Matti Latvala. Hirvonen lays just eight points behind the seven times world champion Loeb, with the final round in Britain to run. The chances of one of the most exciting events in memory, a neck and neck battle between the Citroen of Sebastien Loeb and the Ford of Jari- Matti Latvala were dashed almost before it began, thanks to absurdly unfair driving conditions. The dusty, dry mixed surfaced stages run on the first day strongly favoured the first car on the road, and when one of the stages was later run in darkness, lingering dust meant any hope of meaningful competition had long gone. Loeb, who had earlier grumbled at the prospect of driving first car on the road assuming that surface cleaning would be the dominant feature of the event, suddenly found things were going his way. The dust from his car was was badly handicapping the following cars, even though the running order between the top cars was extended to four minutes. And when stage six was run in darkness, pursuing drivers spoke about stopping on account of impenetrable walls of dust. Of all the top drivers, only Loeb had a clean run on this event. Star of the show, however, was Latvala, putting up a most impressive per formance on the asphalt stages, constantly vying for best stage times with Loeb. Latvala however did not stand a chance of ultimate victor y. During Day 1, fourth running Latvala was able to pass Loeb into the lead for two stages, but then the stage in darkness put paid to his chances. A sudden wall of dust from the cars in front of him caused him to spin, and then he was forced to wait until his own dust eased before being able to continue. All this cost him 46 seconds. During the all-asphalt stages of Day 2 Latvala reduced this deficit to a half minute, and there he stayed until Ford’s tactical machinery wing came into operation and demanded he incurred a time control penalty in order to improve teammate Mikko Hirvonen’s title aspirations. While Hirvonen continued to have trouble getting the best out of his Fiesta, Latvala had demonstrated a new impressive level of excellence of tarmac driving. On this occasion, Loeb was on his own, with little hope of tactical support from his teammate Sebastien Ogier. At midday on Day 1, Ogier was lying third, only 11.9 seconds behind Loeb. But he subsequently had the first of two punctures, which dropped him behind the challenging Mini of Dani Sordo. Then, Ogier had another puncture and dropped also behind the Mini of Meeke, before settling for the rest of the rally behind Sordo in fifth place. Spanish driver Sordo, who was on home soil, was urged on by thousands of addoring supporters, but had a tricky event. He suffered badly in the dust on Day 1 when his intercom failed and was soon nearly a minute behind the rally leaders. And in the dust on stage six, his deficit doubled not only because of visibility, but because the car was ingesting the dust a well. As the rally progressed Minis settled into fourth and sixth positions. Then came Ogier ’s final indignity. The Citroen’s engine failed on the penultimate stage and he was out altogether. Best customer car for all of the rally was the Fiesta of Mads Ostberg, helped by the first stage exit of Petter Solberg, Ken Block and the SWRC challenger Ott Tanak, who all crashed into a concrete culvert to the permanent detriment of their suspensions. Kimi Raikkonen withdrew after two stages due to problems caused by a fuel leak. On Day 3, and the final day of asphalt rallying this 40