Loeb and Elena in pursuit of their eighth title!
Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena, who hold all the records in the FIA World Rally Championship, find themselves up against a new challenge. The Citroën Total World Rally Team crew will start Rally Great Britain with the aim of winning their eighth title, a unique feat in the history of motor sport. Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia in the second works DS3 WRC will be out to finish the season on a high note.
The FIA World Rally Championship, which began on the frozen roads in Sweden in February, will finish in the Welsh forests. Cold, rain and mud are on the Wales Rally GB menu and the event will be run on a route that has undergone major changes compared to the previous rallies. The start will be given on Thursday in Llandudno in the north of the country. The stages will be concentrated around the little town of Builth Wells. The cars will not return to Cardiff except for the parc fermé and the podium.
This time it’s now or never! We’ll just have to ignore the additional pressure caused by what’s at stake.
In Rally Spain, the Citroën Total World Rally Team won its seventh World Manufacturers’ title, and it is tackling the last round united behind Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena. The seven-time world champions have won five rallies this season (Mexico, Sardinia, Argentina, Finland and Spain) and they are aiming for their eighth title on the trot.
“The scenario’s like the one in 2009. We started Rally Great Britain neck and neck with Mikko Hirvonen and whoever finished in front of the other was world champion,” Sébastien Loeb remembers. “Obviously, it’s less stressful trying to win the title when it’s not the last event. You can say to yourself that in case of problems there will be other match points! This time it’s now or never! We’ll just have to ignore the additional pressure caused by what’s at stake.”
Loeb has an eight-point lead over Hirvonen in the Drivers’ World Championship ratings. “With a seven-point gap between victory and second place and three points for the best time in the Power Stage, it’s not a very comfortable situation,” says the Frenchman. “My aim won’t be to win at any cost but to run my race depending on Mikko’s. It doesn’t matter to me if Ogier, Solberg or Latvala are in the lead provided I’m in front of my rival.”
Like Sébastien Loeb, Sébastien Ogier has been on the topmost step of the podium five times this season (Portugal, Jordan, Greece, Germany and France). The driver of the no. 2 DS3 WRC is no longer in the running for the world title after his retirement in Spain, but he is assured of a place in the top three in the 2011 World Rally Championship. “I’m happy to be back racing in this event, even if it doesn’t have only good memories for me. As the manufacturers’ title is already in the bag, I can drive without any pressure where scoring points for the team is concerned. Finishing on the podium would be a good result for me. With regards to the Drivers’ World Championship, Seb is determined to be master of his own destiny by finishing in front of Mikko. But it’s obvious that if circumstances require it I’ll do everything I can to help him win the title.”
“In Rally Spain we achieved our first objective with Citroën’s seventh world title. The make is very proud of this,” declares Olivier Quesnel, the Citroën Racing Team Principal. “We’re up against a new challenge in Great Britain, and it won’t be easy as Mikko Hirvonen is especially quick on this type of surface. We’re tackling the event with calmness, determination, serenity and humility. Loeb and Elena are never as strong as when they’re faced with these extreme pressure situations.”
Three questions to Sébastien Loeb
Almost three months elapsed between your victories in Finland and Spain. Did your sixty-seventh win come as a relief?
“That’s one way of putting it! Winning Rally Spain wasn’t all that obvious and I really had to fight hard in the first two legs. The third day was particularly stressful as we had to make the right tyre choice in unstable weather conditions. I really needed that victory to tackle the last event of the season in the best conditions. But there’s no sense in getting carried away, I’ve still got a long way to go to win the world championship.”
You’re up against Mikko Hirvonen again. What do you fear about him?
"Mikko’s very strong mentally speaking in these kinds of situations. Above all, don’t underestimate him. He’s dominated some rallies head and shoulders. At the mid-season mark he said he didn’t believe in his chances of winning the title. But the way the recent rallies have panned out have put him back in the running. In some ways, he really hasn’t got anything to lose and he’s going to seize his chances. Being second holds no interest for him. He’s going to push right from the start to go for victory. He’s certainly going to set the pace in the race.”
You’ve won the last three rallies in Great Britain. How are you going to tackle this event whose route has been considerably revised compared to the one you know?
“I don’t yet have a really clear idea of what awaits us, but it’ll obviously make things a bit more complicated. The new stages will require increased concentration during reconnaissance and more work on the on-board camera videos. We’re more at the mercy of a trap than in a stage we’ve known for ten years. That’s really the ever-present threat we have to cope with in this rally: I may have won it three times but it was always hanging by a thread at one moment or another. I’ll do two days’ practice in Wales the previous weekend to fine-tune my preparation for this event. This will help me to be in tip-top form.”