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GP Week : Issue 175
WRC >>> CATALUNYA Nine-times World Champion Sebastien Loeb rounded off his full- time professional rally driving career giving Citroen their 90th win on a world championship rally and a personal eighth win on the Catalunya Rally. Mixed weather played havoc for the teams and drivers alike, with an incredible number of top line drivers spending time and often ending their event off the road. The main titles clinched on the final event were for the Production Car, which went to Mexican Mitsubishi driver Benito Guerra – his country's first world motorsport champion for over 41 years – and the SWRC to Craig Breen in his Ford Fiesta, last year's Academy champion. The season ended with melancholy on account of considerable uncertainty among the drivers who had no idea if or for who they would be rallying next year, but some very remarkable performances were achieved on this event. Privateer Mads Ostberg (pictured) narrowly missed finishing in the top three places in the world championship after initially leading the event outright at the end of Day 1. Prodrive's Mini team driver Dani Sordo produced more special stage wins on this event than any other driver while Jarkko Nikara finished fifth on his first ever rally in a World Rally Car. This event was notable for the DMack tyre supplier, it being the first time their tyres had won a special stage, and the first time a tyre had fallen foul of the minimum tread pattern regulation, which cost Evgeniy Novikov a 10 minute penalty and dropped him from sixth to 10th. Catalunya has become established as the only fully mixed-surface rally in the world series, with gravel stages coming first, but rain before the event and during Day 1 played havoc. The gravel stages went badly for the Mini cars, with Sordo, Atkinson and Nobre all delayed or stopped though privateer Nikara was lying eighth overall despite a puncture. Within a few hours the lineup of drivers off the road was amazing with Solberg, Neuville, Atkinson, Prokop, Novikov, Paddon, Fisher and Al Rajhi all among the casualties. Happily Rally2 (SupeRally) rules allowed them all to restart the next day. On the later asphalt stages Tanak and Weijs ended their event with destroyed cars. With his title safely guaranteed we saw a rare error of judgement from Loeb, who believed the gravel stages would be dry and meant a later running order position would be beneficial. He made best time on the Qualifying Stage and chose to start in 14th place. A bad mistake, only brilliant and safe driving kept him in the hunt, finishing the gravel stages in second place. Loeb's second place was not the story however. The first day headlines went to Ostberg who was 27.2 seconds in front of the World Champion, in the same old second-hand Fiesta WRC he had driven all year. His Nor wegian Adapta team however were as realistic as they had been all year. When the rally reached the drier asphalt stages it was surely to be only a matter of time before Loeb would catch up, and a risky but unsuccessful tyre decision on Saturday morning meant that Loeb was ahead a stage or two earlier than expected: "We had reckoned the stage would be 50% dry, in fact it was still almost 100% damp.” For Ostberg, the challenge now was to finish in the top three places in the world championship for drivers, which meant staying in touch with the Ford driver Latvala and ahead of Solberg. Not unachievable, but not guaranteed. In the end it was just too far, fourth championship place on the rally was the result, the 11th the time he had finished a world rally best private team driver this year out of the 11 WRC events he entered. Tyre choices affected everyone. Sebastien Loeb left service for the final loop of stages with three hard tyres and three softs, with no idea what the conditions on the stages would be like and on what corners of the car the tyres should be fitted. Jarkko Nikara was one of two drivers making an impressive debut in top WRCars, the other being the Dutchman Hans Weijs. While Weijs' drive was a gift from his old friend Nasser Al Attiyah, whose Qatar Citroen team had an entry to honour, Nikara's entry with a Mini was the result of an extensive fund raising operation in his native Finland. Weijs had been lying safely in sixth place with four stages to go when he rolled and retired. Nikara gradually made is way up to fifth behind Loeb, Latvala, Hirvonen and Ostberg. 30 GPWEEK.com // 30 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: