Marcus Gronholm pushed hard on the final leg of Rally Japan, winning four of the six stages, but it was not enough to spoil Sebastien Loeb's flawless drive at the eleventh round of the World Rally Championship. The win is Loeb's 27th at the WRC...
Marcus Gronholm pushed hard on the final leg of Rally Japan, winning four of the six stages, but it was not enough to spoil Sebastien Loeb's flawless drive at the eleventh round of the World Rally Championship.
The win is Loeb's 27th at the WRC level, making him the all-time career wins leader, and moving him ahead of rally legends Carlos Sainz (26 victories) and Tommi Makinen (24). And at only 32 years of age, Loeb will have many more chances to further improve his record.
For this particular victory, though, it was a fight to the end. Loeb started the day with a solid 25-second margin over Gronholm, the early rally leader, but it was a nail-biting finish, with Gronholm chipping away at the lead stage after stage.
On the final two conventional stages -- the finish was at the fifth run of the Obihiro superspecial -- the Finn took 6.9 and 3.4 seconds off Loeb's lead, but, from his perspective, the rally was over just too soon, with not enough time to catch up and make up for the spin on Saturday.
At the finish line, then, it was Loeb the victor by a margin of 5.6 seconds in the Kronos Citroen, while Gronholm had to accept that fourteen stage wins may still not be enough to beat Loeb.
Gronholm's junior teammate at Ford, Mikko Hirvonen, drove to a comfortable third-place finish in his Focus WRC. Hirvonen took the final Obihiro superspecial victory, but otherwise his speed was not up to the torrid pace set by Loeb and Gronholm, and he finished two minutes and 40 seconds off Loeb's winning pace.
Chris Atkinson overshadowed his more experienced works Subaru teammate, former world champion Petter Solberg, to take fourth, 40 seconds behind Hirvonen but a solid minute ahead of Manfred Stohl, driving an OMV Peugeot Norway-entered 2005-spec Peugeot 307 WRC.
Local hero Toshihiro Arai took sixth in a privateer Subaru Impreza, just 1.2 seconds ahead of Daniel Sordo in the second Kronos Citroen. Sordo had held sixth off and on, but could not quite match Arai's pace on the narrow gravel roads of Hokkaido.
On SS26, the penultimate stage, Sordo stopped when Luis Perez Companc went off and was blocking the route. Sordo and Marc Marti unbelted and when they resumed the rally, they did not buckle up again.
The Stewards have excluded Sordo from the event; costing them and the team seventh place.
That moved Petter Solberg into seventh in his works Subaru Impreza and the Mitsubishi Lancer of Nutahara into the final points-paying position.
More to follow ...