Sebastien Loeb put in another strong performance in Rally of Turkey in his Citroen Xsara WRC, dominating the competition and taking a record-tying fourth consecutive World Rally Championship win. SÃ©bastien Loeb. Photo by CitroÃ«n ...
Sebastien Loeb put in another strong performance in Rally of Turkey in his Citroen Xsara WRC, dominating the competition and taking a record-tying fourth consecutive World Rally Championship win.
Loeb is certainly a strong favorite to repeat his 2004 championship, and Rally of Turkey further cemented his claim; the French rally ace is not only 13 points ahead now, but also driving at a speed beyond the reach of his rivals.
"I didn't feel threatened at all (by the rival drivers)," Loeb confirmed after the champagne. "Four wins in a row! I'm clearly on a positive run at the moment, but I want to stress the importance of the team's contribution to this series of wins. They are more motivated than ever and continue not to make any mistakes."
Behind Loeb, Marcus Gronholm was unable to make up ground on Petter Solberg, who had snatched second place from the Peugeot pilot at the end of yesterday's second leg. Even desperate weight-saving measures were not enough to catch Solberg's Subary Impreza, although Gronholm did manage to win the final stage.
"I did my best to pass Petter today, I even removed the AC unit from my car at service in order to save a bit of weight, but there was nothing more I could do," the two-time world champion recounted. "We were very close until the last 7 kilometres of SS17, then Petter did a very good time. Of course I was pushing, but my instructions were to get to the finish and make sure of scoring some points for Peugeot."
It was, in fact, the second half of SS17, the second pass through the 16.5 km Chimera stage, that proved decisive for Solberg. The Norwegian had started the day with an eight-second advantage over Gronholm, and on the home stretch of Chimera he ran away with the second podium step, doubling his advantage to some 16 seconds and putting the race out of reach of Gronholm.
"The rally actually worked very well for me and we had a good two days," a relieved Solberg reflected on the rally. "I took quite a lot of time out of Marcus yesterday and had a good feeling that I could do something similar today. We attacked quite hard on the first stage today, but on the second we just drove according to the splits. We managed to secure second place and I'm very pleased for Subaru and the team."
Still, it was a fight for second place, not for a win, and Solberg is now another two points further adrift of Loeb: "Our pace was encouraging, but we still have to find a solution to challenge Sebastien all the time. It would have been good to have fought more closely with him, but that's how it is and we've done the best we can."
Behind the leading trio, it was a fight for manufacturers' championship points, and Markko Martin proved the key for Peugeot, taking fourth place and limiting the damage Citroen was able to inflict on the sister marque's championship lead.o
"This has been a tough rally for us and we have struggled to find complete confidence in the car," the Estonian ace explained. "We still have a lot of work to do, but at least we have come away with some points which are vital for both championships."
Citroen still made up three points on Peugeot's lead, though, with the successful return of veteran driver and two-time WRC champion Carlos Sainz. The Spaniard, who first drove in WRC in 1987 in a Ford Sierra RS Cosworth, took the place of struggling Francois Duval with the goal of helping Citroen in the manufacturers' fight, and that is exactly what Sainz delivered.
A fifth place in Turkey gives Citroen four key points in the manufacturers' race, and begs the question of whether Sainz will return for the equally tough Acropolis Rally.
Sainz certainly enjoyed himself -- "In spite of the delicate conditions, I had a lot of fun. I have to admit that I still derive just as much pleasure from driving!" -- and team boss Guy Frequelin has said that he would welcome Sainz's return in Greece.
Driver nominations for Acropolis are due in a few days ...