By David C. Schilke
Sebastien Loeb claimed victory at the Rally d'Italia Sardegna for the fourth time since its inaugural running in the World Rally Championship calendar . Leading from the first day the Citroen ace enjoyed almost a 30 second lead over his rivals heading into the final four stages. Mikko Hirvonen was able to cut the gap more than half, but couldn’t gain any further ground on Loeb. The French man now takes a clear lead in the Championship and looks towards Argentina where he’ll have to sweep the roads clean on Friday all over again.
“It’s a great victory as we won without any particular strategy,” commented Loeb. “We started with the big disadvantage of being first out on the road on the opening day. We managed to take the lead and build up a small cushion, which we maintained yesterday and today. To do so we had to go pedal to the metal from start to finish. I felt good in the car, and this helped me push really hard. Obviously, it was very fraught at certain moments so it’s a big relief to see the end of the rally.”
It’s a great victory as we won without any particular strategy.
The Ford team also has some cause for celebration, having won the fight for second and picking up three extra points by winning the event’s Power Stage. Hirvonen was able to pull away from both Petter Solberg and Sebastien Ogier and focus ahead in case Loeb made a costly mistake. Alas, the Frenchman never put a wheel wrong, leaving second best for Hirvonen. The Finn is now 7 points behind his rival, while Ford is 17 down from Citroen.
"Second was a strong finish and I'm delighted with the bonus points," said Hirvonen. "I had a good rhythm throughout the stage. I lost 50 seconds after a mistake in the opening leg and if it hadn't been for that, I think I could have won this rally. I was happy with my speed throughout the weekend and I feel increasingly confident with the Fiesta RS WRC with every event."
Ogier looked on form for a podium until stage 17 when he clipped a rock coming out of a corner and broke the suspension. The Frenchman was forced to slow and lost third to Solberg, who went on to win the stage. Ogier leaves Italy third in the points.
“I hadn’t noted a little milestone buried on the exit from a fast corner,” explained Ogier. “The left-hand rear wheel hit it and the suspension broke. I stopped as I thought we’d had a puncture. We were able to continue and we dropped more than a minute on the stage. But it could have been worse as we lost only one place.”
For Solberg the rally was a mix of highs and lows. The Norwegian lost ground each day with minor problems and then would have to work hard to take back the ground he’d lost. Today the privateer Citroen driver was slow to start but quickly recovered on the second stage of the day to close back to Ogier. The costly mistake by the Frenchman was all Solberg needed to take his first podium result of the year and move into fifth overall for the title.
Mad Ostberg put in a solid drive for the Stobart M-Sport team to take fifth, while Dani Sordo impressed all by bringing the new MINI John Cooper Works WRC home to finish in the points with a sixth place at the end of the three days. The new car had an outstanding run in its debut rally under the hands of Sordo. The Spaniard picked up 8 driver points today, but the team is not able to earn any manufacturer points this year.
“I am happy to finish, the car is good and so is the team,” said Sordo. “I think the weekend was very positive and after many kilometres on the rally we have learnt more about the car, which is important. Also the team has taken a lot of data and are now working hard for the future. In the fast parts of the stages we were close to the top times. The positive is the chassis is really good and it is really nice to drive on the fast road. If you have a good chassis this is most important.”
Jari-Matti Latvala earned two more stage wins today but after crashing on the first leg he could finish no better than 18th in the overall. Still the Finn picked up two points for second on the Power Stage and leaves Italy fourth in the championship.
The teams will now head across the Atlantic and into the Southern Hemisphere for Rally Argentina at the end of this month. Winter is just rolling into the high altitude region so colder temperatures and wet conditions are expected. Last ran in 2009, the event was extremely difficult as cold mud led to a high attrition rate in the field.
Loeb has won the past five times the WRC has come to South America which means he’ll be the odds favorite, but it won’t be easy with so much talent showing in his teammate Ogier and their main rivals. This rally will be less about pace than usual; the driver who keeps out of trouble with skill and luck is who will win Rally Argentina.
Rally d'Italia Sardegna Final Results