ANOTHER RECORD FOR SEBASTIEN LOEB After establishing new records for the highest number of WRC wins (their score increases to 33 this weekend), for the highest number of wins in a single season (10) and for the highest proportion of stages won...
ANOTHER RECORD FOR SEBASTIEN LOEB
After establishing new records for the highest number of WRC wins (their score increases to 33 this weekend), for the highest number of wins in a single season (10) and for the highest proportion of stages won on a single event (they won every stage in Corsica in 2005), Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena broke a new record this weekend in Germany with their BFGoodrich-equipped Citroen C4 WRC: that of the highest number of consecutive wins on the same WRC round thanks to a sixth success on the trot on the Rallye Deutschland. The World Champion was joined on the podium by Francois Duval (2nd in his privately-entered Citroen/BFGoodrich) and Mikko Hirvonen (3rd). Hirvonen's Ford/BFGoodrich team-mate Marcus Gronholm fell back two places from second to fourth on the final stage, conceding five Drivers' championship points to Loeb who has closed to within just eight points of the Finn.
Since its inclusion in the World Championship in 2002, the Rallye Deutschland has systematically offered a stark contrast between the serenity of the barges gliding down the Mosel River and the ferocity of the battling on the valley's vineyard-covered banks... with Sebastien Loeb always coming out on top.
In 2002, the future World Champion made up for his frustration on the Monte Carlo Rally by notching up his maiden WRC win in Germany. The following year saw him successfully ward off Marcus Gronholm's strong late challenge. In 2004 and 2005, it was Belgium's Francois Duval who proved his closest rival, while the 2006 event saw his own team-mate Dani Sordo give him more than just a good run for his money before settling in the Frenchman's wake.
This time round, continuing his domination of the event in style, Sebastien Loeb succeeded in fending off every one of these drivers at the same time, although his sixth consecutive win in Germany was by no means easy.
A shower at Friday lunchtime while crews were still in the service park in Trier, suggested changeable weather for the hours ahead and the leading drivers had only a few minutes in which to choose their tyres for the second loop. Loeb opted for the soft compound, a decision that could have proved extremely costly.
Indeed, it was another Citroen/BFGoodrich driver, Francois Duval, who emerged on top of the provisional leaderboard at the end of the first day which saw the Citroen Sport factory team's day suffer a further blow when Dani Sordo's C4 WRC joined the retirements list (engine).
Sebastien Loeb regained control after Saturday's opening stage thanks to a fastest time on the first Saint Wendel test and then profited from two spins by Duval to pull even further clear. The rest of the day saw him pull gradually ahead of his rivals to end the day with a lead of 37.8 seconds over Marcus Gronholm (Ford/BFGoodrich).
The Finn quickly realized that his chances of winning in Germany were near impossible and second place would have been an ideal finish for him. However, even the silver medal turned out to be no foregone conclusion for the championship leader. True, Duval's poor start to Saturday's action enabled Gronholm and his Ford/BFGoodrich team-mate Mikko Hirvonen to ease into second and third places, but the Belgium succeeded in closing the gap to just 12.6 seconds compared with Gronholm by the end of the day.
After standing out as Loeb's principal rival first thing Saturday, Duval became the Frenchman's biggest ally in terms of championship points by the end of the second leg as he battled to pass the Ford pair. At the wheel of his privately-entered Xsara WRC, the Belgian gave it everything he had over the 62km of the third leg and, before the start of the final stage, was only 5s adrift of the former champion who made a mistake in the final test, dropping two places in the overall standings and conceding a total of five points to Loeb in the title chase.
Chris Atkinson's finishing position failed to reflect either his otherwise good run (three fastest times) or the progress made by the Subaru Impreza on asphalt on BFGoodrich tyres since the beginning of the season. As in 2006, Jan Kopecky (Skoda/BFGoodrich) also produced a strong run in Germany, successfully holding off Petter Solberg (6th, Subaru/BFGoodrich) and Toni Gardemeister (7th, Citroen/BFGoodrich) to clinch fifth overall.
Neither Mikko Hirvonen nor Marcus Gronholm took any risks regarding tyre choice this weekend. Both Finns took the safe option (medium-soft compound) for the morning's action, switching to the medium compound for the afternoon's stages. There was a significant difference in the wear-rate noted amongst the Ford drivers after the second attempt at Baumholder for which they all chose '2' compound g-Force Profilers: the wear-rate of Gronholm and Hirvonen was 60%, but Wilson and Latvala both came away from the military ranges with extremely worn tyres.
For Friday afternoon's loop, Citroen's works drivers took a gamble when they chose '0+' compound g-Force Profilers, but the move failed to pay off as well as it did in 2006. The anticipated rain failed to materialize and Sebastien Loeb had to push very hard to limit the damage. The rest of the weekend turned out to be more straightforward in terms of tyre choices, while the Frenchman looked after his tyres perfectly over the Baumholder ranges.
Subaru was the only team to nominate a hard compound tyre for the second attempt at the Baumholder stages which saw Atkinson post a fastest time (SS14). The Australian claimed two other fastest times on medium-soft and medium tyres, making it three best times on three different compounds. Solberg and Atkinson chose medium-soft rubber for Friday morning (when the other teams opted for mediums) and both made a poor choice for Saturday morning's loop.
OMV Kronos Citroen WRT
Francois Duval did not make the same mistake as the factory Citroen drivers on the Friday afternoon. While the factory pair went for a soft compound, the Belgian chose the medium-soft alternative to emerge in front at the end of Leg 1. He explained his two spins on SS7 by cold tyres. Stohl took the soft compound for on SS7 and SS8 (while all the others were on medium-softs) and was a creditable seventh quickest on SS7 but then retired on the following stage.
QUOTES FROM GERMANY
Sebastien Loeb (Citroen/BFGoodrich)
"Despite my poor tyre choice for Friday afternoon, this is a very positive result for me. Last year, the soft option worked to our advantage but not this time. It was raining heavily as we pulled out of the service park in Trier and we thought the stages would be damp, or even that it might rain again during the afternoon, so we opted for the soft compound. However, three minutes after leaving service, we could see that the weather was perfectly clear in the direction we were heading. I knew it wouldn't be easy but we nonetheless succeeded in limiting the damage by pushing as hard as we could."
Chris Atkinson (Subaru/BFGoodrich)
"I am disappointed with the final result but the weekend wasn't that bad overall. We posted three fastest times, including one on hard tyres ('2+' compound) on Panzerplatte 2 and we made full use of the BFGoodrich range that was available for this event. We have built on the car's potential on asphalt that we saw on the Monte Carlo Rally, but there is still a great deal of work to do. An asphalt test is planned in September to prepare for Spain, Corsica and Ireland."
Matthieu Bonardel, BFGoodrich Rallies Programme Manager
"The Rallye Deutschland is traditionally one of the toughest rounds of the year for tyre manufacturers because of the traditionally unsettled weather. That said, it is just as difficult when the stages are entirely dry as they were this year! Tyre choices are not that much easier because the amount of grip available can change from one stage to another and there is always a chance that the weather conditions can change. The BFGoodrich range available here ensured that we had a tyre for all the conditions, from the '0+' soft compound for the vineyard stages to the '2+' hard compound for the Baumholder military ranges. That's a good sign for the three asphalt rallies still to come."
After each round of the World Championship, BFGoodrich rewards the three best-placed privateers with a prize comprised of tyres. The podium in Germany was Francois Duval (1st), Toni Gardemeister (2nd) and Jan Kopecky (3rd).