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GP Week : Issue 170
WRC >>> FRANCE Jari-Matti on home ground in 2011 Titles galore in France! Sebastien Loeb and Citroen gained their respective world championships titles with two events still to go, and Elfyn Evans found himself unbeatable in the WRC Academy with one event remaining, "It doesn't get much better than this", said 38 year-old nine-times champion driver Loeb, waving to the crowds in his home town of Haguenau at the end of the final stage. Even the overnight rain failed to dampen the passion of the crowds who came out in their tens of thousands and more, knowing this will be the last time they could share the successes of their local hero, who was about to retire from full time rallying. Rallye de France Alsace was once again The Sebastien Loeb Show. The speed of Jari-Matti Latvala in his Ford kept up the pressure all the time. It was the Finn's second successive asphalt rally in which he finished behind Loeb and in front of the other Citroens, headed by Mikko Hirvonen. Once again Ford were beaten by a man, not a car. Ford's disappointment at not winning the Makes' title was increased when Latvala's teammate Petter Solberg had an extraordinary accident. His car slid off the road into a vineyard, and when trying to regain the road the car spectacularly felled an electrical pylon ... In clearer conditions this year and with some new stages, it proved to be the fastest ever asphalt rally in the 40-year history of the world championship, but it was still tricky with many unexpectedly damp patches under trees and heavy overnight rain before the final day. Loeb only became cautiously settled after Latvala lost some time on the long Stage 8 when he slid off the road and his wheels were clogged with mud. This caused unpleasant vibrations in the car which put the Frenchman around 30 seconds ahead. At this time a major battle developed behind Hirvonen for fourth place, between the private Adapta team Ford of Mads Ostberg, the Citroen Junior team driver Thierry Neuville and the Prodrive development Mini of Dani Sordo. Neuville incurred a 20 second penalty for a mistake at a time control at the midway halt on the second full day which dropped him from fourth to sixth and, such was the intensity of the battle, that he did not retrieve his original place until the final morning. After two days of stages in the Vosges hills and the neighbouring vineyards, the final day was run in the flat lands north of Strasbourg. Neuville was unstoppable, winning four of the final day's six stages: "Yes. I was happy. These stages were just like the stages in the Ypres Rally. I was in my element.” Ostberg finished fifth, his best ever result on asphalt, but Sordo retired when power-steering failure on a day when there were no breaks for ser vice made it impossible to carry on. Both Neuville and Ostberg produced positive results at a time of critical importance when seats in next year's works rally cars are being allocated. Nasser Al Attiyah, Daniel Oliveira and Paolo Nobre all failed to finish after going off the road. A noteworthy performance was the victory on the Power Stage for M-Sport's sixth placed protege Ott Tanak, on an event in which his times had been otherwise less than sparkling. Evgeny Novikov finished seventh after two off-road excursions on the final morning, in front of Chris Atkinson who gradually increased in self-confidence in the Portugal team Mini and Martin Prokop who was troubled by misfiring for much of the event. Tenth place went to the second best Frenchman to finish. This was Sebastien Chardonnet, who pipped the top Super 2000 driver Sebastien Ogier by 3.9 seconds. Chardonnet was supported by an extensive young driver promotion initiative by the French federation (FFSA) who entered four young drivers on the event. He was rallying a World Rally Car for the first time. Another national prize winning driver was Stephane Consani, younger brother of the IRC contender, who won his class and finished the best two-wheel drive car. There was an entertaining battle between the racing drivers Yvan Muller and Romain Dumas, both in Mini World Rally Cars, which went to the WTCC champion Muller. Jari-Matti in full flight ... Chris Atkinson Yvan Muller overshoots Evgeny Novikov ... battered. 44 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: