Loeb (CitroÃ«n-Michelin) again supreme on German asphalt An emphatic third consecutive win in the Deutschland Rally for SÃ©bastien Loeb has further strengthened the CitroÃ«n-Michelin driver's position at the top of the provisional 2004...
Loeb (Citroën-Michelin) again supreme on German asphalt
An emphatic third consecutive win in the Deutschland Rally for Sébastien Loeb has further strengthened the Citroën-Michelin driver's position at the top of the provisional 2004 Drivers' classification. With six rounds remaining, the Frenchman now enjoys a lead of 29 points over his closest chaser (Markko Märtin), the equivalent of practically three victories (a win is worth ten points). Ford-Michelin's François Duval (2nd) and Loeb's own team-mate Carlos Sainz (3rd) secured yet another all-Michelin podium in Trier, the French tyre firm monopolising the top seven places after an event marked by often atrocious weather conditions.
Victory for Sébastien Loeb in this weekend's Deutschland Rally coupled with another podium finish for team-mate Carlos Sainz (3rd) have given a significant boost to Citroën-Michelin's chances of clinching a second consecutive world title. The French driver moved into the lead early on the morning of Day 1, stayed in control despite Saturday's exceptionally treacherous conditions and then managed from in front with relative ease during the final day to secure his fifth win of the season, and his third in as many years on the German asphalt round.
The mature performance of Belgium's François Duval, who split the two Citroëns to bag 2nd place, will serve as a warning however to the French outfit and its drivers that nothing can yet be taken for granted. Indeed, but for a time-consuming overshoot on the first morning, followed by a transmission problem that deprived the Ford-Michelin driver of his handbrake for the countless hairpin bends later the same day, Duval would probably have given Loeb a much closer run for his money. Sainz himself will be able to vouch for that after seeing a seemingly safe cushion of over half-a-minute evaporate as the Belgian charged back up the field on Leg 2 to take the silver medal.
And with Markko Märtin covering in 4th place, the Ford-Michelin team also leaves Trier with a valuable harvest of points that realistically makes it the only rival that can seriously threaten Citroën in the title chase.
This weekend's event was marked by some of the worst conditions drivers have had to face in world class rallying in a long time. Unpredictable weather, sudden torrential downpours and the treacherous stages of the notoriously challenging Baumholder military ranges provided a cocktail that kept the top names on their toes throughout, but which also caused the demise of a number of leading drivers, including Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot- Michelin) who crashed out on the very first corner and Petter Solberg whose Subaru rolled out of the event on Saturday morning.
After a weekend of ups and downs, Peugeot-Michelin's Cédric Robert and Freddy Loix progressively picked up pace to finish in 5th and 6th places respectively, ahead of the consistent Toni Gardemeister (7th, Skoda- Michelin).
For much of the rally, the leading Subaru runner was former F1 driver Stéphane Sarrazin whose privately-entered Michelin-shod Impreza eventually finished 9th, just behind the works car of Mikka Hirvonen, after reducing his pace on the final day to make sure of achieving his objective of reaching the finish. Sarrazin's French Championship rival Alexandre Bengué completed the top-ten in Germany after setting top six times on the opening day.
Other noteworthy performances came from Gilles Panizzi who celebrated the latest Mitsubishi-Michelin's asphalt debut by figuring as high as 6th overall before falling foul of the terrible stage conditions on Leg 2. Roman Kresta also made a name for himself in his Skoda-Michelin before crashing out at practically the same moment as Panizzi, while Armin Schwarz succeeded in posting the Czech team's first fastest stage time of the year.
And even before the field was whittled down in the middle of Leg 2, the early part of the event had offered a sufficiently broad range of conditions to underline the performance of Michelin whether the going was dry or wet, clean or muddy, warm or cold!
Despite the mix of conditions, with ground temperatures ranging from 5°C (Sunday) to 28°C (Friday) over the three days, and torrential rain adding to the challenge (especially over the Baumholder military ranges), Michelin's frontrunners had a sufficiently wide choice in their individual quota to cope with all the situations faced during the weekend.
A selection of cold and mid-range compound dry weather (Michelin N) and wet weather (Michelin TA) patterns were used to secure fastest time on all 24 stages (with seven different drivers and four different cars!).
Success on all families of terrains. After wins over snow and ice (Sweden), on smooth gravel (Finland, Argentina), medium gravel (Mexico), hard-wearing gravel (Cyprus, Turkey) and wintry asphalt (Monte Carlo), the Loeb/Citroën/Michelin association's third consecutive win in Germany means that Michelin tyres have won over all the different 'families' of terrain that make up this year's World Rally Championship.
The Michelin hat-trick trophy. After Tommi Mäkinen (Monte Carlo), Marcus Grönholm (Finland and Australia) and Gilles Panizzi (Sanremo), Sébastien Loeb becomes the latest driver to be awarded the Michelin Hat- trick Trophy which rewards drivers who win the same WRC event three years running. Peugeot Sport was also awarded the Michelin Hat-trick Trophy for its three consecutive Manufacturers' titles.
Sébastien and Daniel will receive their specially-commissioned sculpture later in the season.