CITROËN DRIVERS CERTAIN TO CLAIM WORLD TITLE
After finishing second and fifth at the Wales Rally GB, Sébastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen pushed all the other drivers out of the running for the title of 2012 World Rally Champion. In grabbing the runner-up spot on the final stage, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena obviously moved another step closer to a ninth consecutive title. The points secured by Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen in fifth also enabled the Citroën Total World Rally Team to move within grabbing distance of an eighth Manufacturers’ World Championship.
The third leg of Wales Rally GB took the competitors close to Swansea, where three stages awaited them, each run twice. Starting the day in third, 6.4s behind Petter Solberg, Sébastien Loeb made no secret of his desire to get past the Norwegian. Two stage wins on Port Talbot and Rheola enabled the Citroën Total World Rally Team driver to move into second position.
“We completely changed the set-up during yesterday evening’s service period,” explained the eight-time World Champion. “Broadly speaking, we have adopted the solutions which worked well in New Zealand. We have found better performance again on roads which have been offering more grip than on the first two days. We are second now, but I don’t think Petter will give up the fight as easily as that…”
Meanwhile, Mikko Hirvonen had also managed to find a good level of pace again during the first loop: “I often get called ‘Sunday Times’, because I always set good times on the last day! There is no question that the grip has been a lot better, so I feel more confident and that has been reflected in the times… At the same time, the threat from Tänak has faded, but I’m going to keep pushing, because you never know what might happen at the front…”
The scrap between Sébastien Loeb and Petter Solberg became even more intense after the crews had stopped off at the Cardiff service park. Solberg moved ahead again on Port Talbot, before Seb fought back on Rheola, taking second by just a tenth of a second! Also offering the bonus points as the rally's Power Stage, the Walters Arena 2 stage became doubly significant. Confirming his status as the form driver on Sundays, Mikko Hirvonen went quickest, ahead of Seb in second, who therefore held onto his second position. “It’s good to finish the rally on such a positive note,” said the Finn. “It hasn’t been an easy weekend, but it’s very good overall result for the team in terms of the two championships.”
“I am pleased to have held onto second place. It reflects the real progress we’ve made today,” commented Sébastien Loeb. “As I often say, nothing should be taken for granted. Sometimes, winning comes down to sheer hard work. This weekend, Jari-Matti was the best, and I'd like to congratulate him on his perfect rally. Personally speaking, I have to be pleased with the twenty points I have scored here. In terms of the title, it’s a good result.”
“At the start of the season, we stated that our goal was to retain the Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ titles,” recalled Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal. “Thanks to the result we have achieved here in the UK, only Seb or Mikko can now win the Drivers’ World Championship. So, we have achieved our first goal, and we have also moved a little bit closer to the second one. At the same time, we shouldn’t forget that we weren’t always the quickest this weekend. We will therefore keep working to try and make progress on this type of surface.”