A faultless run from Sebastien Loeb To celebrate its return to the World Championship calendar after an absence of five years, the Algarvebased 2007 Rally de Portugal was won in style by Citroen/BFGoodrich's Sebastien Loeb. The ...
A faultless run from Sebastien Loeb
To celebrate its return to the World Championship calendar after an absence of five years, the Algarvebased 2007 Rally de Portugal was won in style by Citroen/BFGoodrich's Sebastien Loeb. The Frenchman's assertive run was helped by some bold tyre choices as he powered his way to his third victory of the year and the 31st of his career at world level. Marcus Gronholm followed his rival home in 2nd place to remain on top of the Drivers' championship standings, while Ford/BFGoodrich continues to lead the Manufacturers' points table thanks to Hirvonen (3rd) who once again joined his team-mate on the podium.
Sebastien Loeb was in such a hurry that he wasn't able to wait until Sunday to play his April-fool prank on archrival Marcus Gronholm!
The Finn had kicked off the weekend by claiming Thursday evening's super-special in front of 20,000 spectators at the Estadio de Algarve before leading until SS6. However, he wasn't to have the pleasure of concluding Leg 1 in front since two consecutive fastest times for Loeb on Friday afternoon enabled the Frenchman to take command by a margin of 3.1 seconds as crews headed back to Faro for the overnight halt.
The following day, the Citroen driver profited from longest stage of the rally to practically make sure of securing his 31st world class win.
Saturday morning saw heavy rain blow in over the Algarve region from the Atlantic. At the short, early morning service halt in Faro, the works drivers were informed about the muddy conditions that awaited them on the day's first three tests and were able to select their tyres accordingly. Gambling on the fact that the stages would stay wet, Loeb opted for soft compound re-cut tyres, while Marcus Gronholm went for the medium compound in the belief that the weather would clear.
The first of the loop's three tests (30.69km) did little to split the two front-runners, with a mere 2 seconds separating Loeb and Gronholm at the flying finish. Meanwhile, the third quickest driver over the stage finished nearly 1s/km adrift of the charging duo! However, the next two stages played into the hands of Loeb who succeeded in extending his lead to 15s by the lunchtime break. Saturday afternoon then saw the Frenchman make his boldest tyre choice of the weekend when he chose a hard compound for the drier conditions and clearer weather. Both Ford and Subaru believed that further showers were possible and Gronholm chose medium compound g-force Gravels once again, but although an assertive attack enabled the Finn to mask his error on SS11 (1.7s behind Loeb), he knew that his chances of victory were now very slim. They were to evaporate altogether on SS12 when the N3 Ford Focus WRC lost 14s in a spin. After winning in Sweden thanks to a bold tyre choice, it was Marcus Gronholm's turn to be thwarted this time round by Sebastien Loeb who didn't put a foot wrong in terms of tyre strategy.
He did suffer a slight scare on Sunday April 1 when his BFGoodrich technician announced that the morning's conditions were very muddy despite the sunshine, but the Frenchman soon saw through the joke and profited from the final leg to coast home to victory!
Mikko Hirvonen (3rd, Ford/BFGoodrich) finished on the podium once again after progressively warding off early pressure from Petter Solberg (4th, Subaru/BFGoodrich) and Dani Sordo (5th, Citroen/BFGoodrich). The Norwegian made a promising start to the weekend but lost ground on Friday afternoon and then made a poor tyre choice on Saturday morning. Austria's Manfred Stohl (Citroen/BFGoodrich) figured in 6th place for some time but then lost 5 minutes following a big spin on SS13, handing 6th spot to the young Jari-Matti Latvala (Ford/BFGoodrich) who posted some promising times this weekend.
The other main dual of the rally opposed Sweden's Daniel Carlsson (Citroen/BFGoodrich) and Norway's Henning Solberg (Ford/BFGoodrich) for 7th place, the Ford driver eventually losing out when he was delayed by clutch trouble.
Quotes from Portugal
Sebastien Loeb (Citroen/BFGoodrich): "The Citroen team and BFGoodrich's staff gave us good information which enabled us to anticipate the weather changes and choose the ideal tyres for both of Saturday's loops."
Matthieu Bonardel, BFGoodrich Rallies Programme Manager: "This newcomer to the WRC calendar turned out to be very hard-wearing on the tyres. There were also numerous punctures (cuts in the sidewalls) but the mousse run-flat system performed perfectly. The changing weather conditions saw our driver-partners use the full range of tyres available to them this weekend, from the soft to the hard compounds. Sebastien made some bold tyre choices which, unlike in Sweden, paid off for him."
After each round of the World Championship, BFGoodrich rewards the three best-placed privateers with a prize comprised of tyres. Jari-Matti Latvala and Daniel Carlsson respectively received 24 and 10 tyres for their performances in Portugal.