David C. Schilke, WRC correspondent
All good things must come to an end. For Sebastien Loeb that meant eventually he would be defeated on the tarmac in Germany. Something would go wrong and his winning streak since 2002 would end for Rally Deutschland. The Frenchman racked up 8 wins here before his good thing came to an end this weekend. His Citroen teammate Sebastien Ogier was in perfect position to take advantage of Loeb’s troubles to grab his first tarmac win. Loeb will still be looking out at the spectators from the German podium, only with a slightly lower perspective, as the points leader had to settle for second place.
I’m absolutely delighted with this win as we’ve proved that we’re quick on this surface.
Friday’s opening stages saw the two Citroen drivers pull away from the rest of the field. Loeb stretched out a narrow lead but Ogier wasn’t far off his pace after the first leg of the event. Still heading into Saturday, it looked as if Loeb would be on par for yet another Rally Deutschland win, keeping his streak alive. At the time Citroen made the decision to have their drivers hold places, to insure another one, two finish during the 2011 season. Ogier was not pleased with this choice, and would have preferred an honest fight. However, he ended up having his chance on Saturday, when Loeb cut his tire on the infamous Panzerplatte stage, causing him to drop over a minute behind his teammate. Ogier held the lead and with only five stages left today it appeared Citroen tactics were now out the window.
Will little hope of catching Ogier, Loeb then turned his attention to today’s Power Stage finale, where the three extra points earned for winning would soften the blow of losing his first overall. The reigning champ was two seconds faster than Ogier on the stage. Still at the end of the day it was Ogier that celebrated his fourth win of the season, this one being his very first victory on tarmac with the Citroen team.
“I have to say that there was no way that victory in this rally was a foregone conclusion as I was up against Seb who has never lost in Germany and is always very quick on tarmac," commented Ogier. "I’m absolutely delighted with this win as we’ve proved that we’re quick on this surface. It’s boosted our motivation for the end of the championship. I’m not perhaps in the best position but I’ll fight as long as I’ve still got a chance."
For Loeb taking second today with three extra points from the Power Stage still keeps him strongly in the lead for another World Rally Championship title, “After my eight wins in Germany on the trot, there’s no way I can be pleased with second place,” frowned Loeb. “I’ve been saying for the past few years that this series would come to an end – and it has! We were unlucky but that’s racing. Mathematically speaking my second place and the points from the power stage mean that we still have a victory in hand.”
After Ogier and Loeb settled their fight over first and second, Dani Sordo was the surprising addition to the podium. Since Ford had a frustrating rally, the new MINI was there to reap the benefit. The Spaniard has always been considered a tarmac expert, and the new car suited him well on his way to a first podium in 2011. MINI teammate Kris Meeke was also on course for a strong fifth placed finish before retiring with electrical problems, possibly caused by an off-road excursion on the stage prior.
“I am really, really happy for me and the team," smiled Sordo. "For the first rally of the car on tarmac this is very good. This is a surprise and the times were so close to Ford and Citroen that we have a lot of confidence for the next rally. The car is really good on tarmac. We have a good set-up and the suspension is perfect. Obviously we can improve and get the car better and better but this weekend it was okay. We shall now work a lot to try and beat Citroen as well. I tried to push hard on the power stage and it was great to be third, but I didn’t want to take any risks. The mechanics have worked really hard and not made any mistakes so I hope to spend some time with them tonight.”
Mikko Hirvonen represented Ford by finishing fourth after a less than stellar weekend, the Finn still holds third in points but poor tire choice, a crash and a puncture just when things started to look better all worked against the Ford Fiesta from earning its first tarmac podium, "It was a difficult weekend because so many things happened. When everything went well I had a good pace and if we continue to work hard as a team and improve the car, then we can challenge on the remaining asphalt rounds. I'm looking forward to getting back on the gravel at the next round in Australia where I feel we can be strong."
Petter Solberg held tough to round out the top five in his Citroen after Kris Meeke retired in the other MINI. The privateer showed he has the pace when things go his way, picking up an extra point by taking third in the Power Stage just seconds off the Citron factory drivers. Solberg is now only two points away from Jari-Matti Latvala in the driver's championship.
"I am really satisfied with this fifth place," said Solberg. "The works cars have developed quickly over the last events. That makes it even better for us, as a private team, to be keeping up with their speed. Without the puncture problems on Saturday it could have been even better. It felt really good to score one extra point at the Circus Maximus, with just 0.04 seconds to Jari-Matti."
The Citroens kept coming as Kimi Raikkonen took sixth, equalling his best result of the season. Henning Solberg finished seventh for M-Sport Stobart while Armindo Araujo crossed the line eighth. Peter van Merksteijn jr. and Dennis Kuipers rounded out the top ten, respectively.
The series now head down under for Rally Australia in September. There are only four events left for Ogier or possibly Hirvonen to catch up to Loeb in the championship. One day Loeb will be defeated, but with a 25 point lead it seems that this year the Frenchman is on track to keep his winning streak alive.