A fourth consecutive Deutschland Rally win for Sebastien Loeb , who has pulled even further clear at the top of the 2005 Drivers' points table, and the excellent 2nd place of his team-mate Francois Duval have put Citroen- Michelin back ahead in the Manufacturers' standings with five rounds to go . And once again, the Michelin N was in dominating form over the asphalt stages of the German event.
The weather may have turned out kinder than expected this weekend in the Trier and Saarland regions of Germany, but that didn't stop the Deutschland Rally once again proving ruthlessly selective. And although bright sunshine gradually saw ground temperatures climb to a high of 24C on Saturday afternoon , Friday morning's action featured numerous lingering and treacherous damp patches.
Citroen's two drivers felt perfectly comfortable with their Michelin N tyres over the partially wet opening stages, however, and this confidence enabled them to pull out a significant early lead over their chasers. By the end of SS3, Loeb and Duval already enjoyed an advantage of some 30 seconds over Marcus Gronholm (3rd, Peugeot) and more than a minute over 4th- placed Petter Solberg, neither of whom could do anything to match the pace of the Citroen - Michelin pair. "After just three stages, our main rivals in the championship were already a long way back. That says a great deal about the domination of the Xsara/Michelin package over our competitors," commented Loeb after the opening group of stages.
After trading best times over the narrow yet fast roads that criss-cross the Mosel Valley vineyards on Leg 1, the Citroen drivers were again fastest over every one of the next day's tests that took them to the daunting Baumholder military ranges which are notoriously hard- wearing on tyres. By spinning early on Day 2, Francois Duval gave his team-mate Sebastien Loeb sufficient breathing space to be able to cruise home to his fourth consecutive win on the Deutschland Rally, the event which produced the Frenchman's maiden world class success back in 2002. Since then, the Alsace-based driver has added seventeen further victories to his record, including no fewer than eight since the start of the 2005 season!
Citroen -Michelin's fourth win on the trot in Germany- its first one-two finish of the year - puts it back in front in the Manufacturers' World Championship standings as the season enters its final phase. With just five rounds still to go, the scrap for the Manufacturers' title between Citroen -Michelin and Peugeot - who finished 3rd and 4th this weekend, with Marcus Gronholm and Markko Martin - promises to be an absolute thriller. Meanwhile, in the battle for the Drivers' crown, Sebastien Loeb has extended his cushion over his closest chaser to 32 points and could theoretically sew up the series at the next round, Wales Rally GB.
Ford-Michelin had high expectations for this rally which took place near Ford of Europe's headquarters in Cologne. With its best-placed car - that of Roman Kresta - coming home in 6th, the end result was perhaps a little disappointing, especially since the car proved competitive, with Toni Gardemeister, Kresta and Dani Sola all posting top-three times.