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GP Week : Issue 177a
WRC >>> FEATURE No surprise, Sebastien Loeb ended up the 2012 World Champion Rally Drivers title, for the ninth successive time. Far less predictable in view of the tantalisingly close competition between Citroen and Ford, Citroen once again were the champion Manufacturer. The excitement of continued rivalry between Citroen and Ford did something to conceal the worries in the sport which started with the collapse of the championship Promoter North One Sport, followed by the failure of Prodrive to firm up the necessary funding to enable them to register their team of BMW Minis, a promotionally important third marque for the championship. The season ended unhappily with announcements that both Ford and BMW would withdraw their support for championship activities, and interestingly with the decision by Loeb to withdraw from full time rallying, but with hopes of new and exciting activities in other quarters. The 17-year career of Loeb has been completely unequalled in rallying. He started on local events when he was 21, and first became regularly active in the world championship when he was 27 through the then-new FIA Super 1600 Cup in 2001 when he gained his first FIA WRC title. The next year he became a regular world championship works driver for Citroen in the company’s early days in the WRC, days when Citroen were discovering the sport, often the hard way. By Germany 2002 he had scored his first WRC victory; by 2004 he had scored his first world championship title and has not looked back since. The statistics of his career are enough to frighten off the opposition, winning exactly 50% of his 152 events entered in World Rally Cars. The nearest that any other driver has achieved in WRC domination was Tommi Makinen who had been champion four times in a row, 1996 through 1999. Sebastien has graciously attributed his success to being in the right place at the right time; observers see his success is also everything to do with his remarkable physical condition and cheekily with instances of the sort of good luck common to all great champions. Loeb wants to keep his toe in the water of rallying and contest a selection, not yet defined, of his favourite WRC events while he pursues activities as a driver and manager on the race tracks. His regular absence from the WRC will provide a pronounced vacuum in the sport, especially at Citroen. Back to 2012. Once again Ford promised much and progressively it became clear that there was now no major performance difference between their cars and the Citroens. The increasing speed of Jari-Matti Latvala on asphalt as well as on gravel (left) was encouraging but the victories kept on going the way of Citroen on account of the superior consistency of Loeb. The inconsistency of Ford drivers Latvala and Petter Solberg was catastrophic, to the extent that for some time the 24 year-old private driver Mads Ostberg, at the wheel of a very old second hand Fiesta, was the highest placed Ford driver in the championship standings. Ostberg’s performances were outstanding. In circumstances when the speed and determination of other young drivers were being critically analysed, Ostberg went on and on delivering the sort of results of dreams, despite incurring the reputation of being “slow” . Early in the season he inherited a remarkable WRC victory in Portugal when the winning Citroen of Mikko Hirvonen was excluded for technical reasons. His expertise was largely on winter 49 GPWEEK.com // 49 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: