Sébastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and the Citroën Total World Rally Team finished the season in the same way as they started it: on the top step of the podium!
The statisticians will note that in winning the Rally de Espana, the Franco-Monegasque crew notched up their 76th career win, whilst Citroën can now boast some 90 WRC victories.
Quick and consistent throughout the weekend, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen finished third overall.
Having established a half-minute lead over Jari-Matti Latvala on day two, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena could look forward to the final day in a relatively relaxed frame of mind. As the Riudecanyes, Santa Marina and La Serra d’Almos stages were more or less dry, the Citroën Total World Rally Team DS3 WRCs were fitted with hard Michelin Pilot Sport tyres for the first loop of stages.
Whilst Dani Sordo wowed his home crowd by winning all three of the morning’s stages, Seb controlled the race from the front by aligning his times with those of Latvala.
After the morning’s 46 kilometres of stages, the nine-time World Champion has only lost 2.3s to his Finnish challenger. “Dani is really pushing. He probably wants to prove that he’s just as quick as ever.
As far as I'm concerned, I just tried to keep up a good pace and not make any mistakes. It went well, but I don’t really enjoy driving like that. I ended up almost having more scares than when we are really pushing hard,” confided Seb at the service park.
Similarly, Mikko Hirvonen controlled proceedings to hold off Ott Tänak and Mads Østberg in the scrap for third place. “The situation is under control, we have maintained a fairly steady rhythm this morning.
We had some rain on the longest stage and Tänak made a minor mistake, so that has made life a little easier for us now. I'm not taking any risks. I’m staying focussed.”
As thick clouds gathered above the Costa Daurada, the Citroën cars headed off to tackle the second loop with a mix of soft and hard tyres. On SS16, Sébastien Loeb lost four seconds due to a slow puncture picked up shortly before the end of the stage.
The rain forecast for SS17, in the end, came to just a few drops. Having to tread carefully given their tyre choice in these conditions, Seb and Mikko lost a good portion of their respective leads!
There was, however, only one 4.11km stage left to complete and the overall standings remained unchanged after this final stage.
“A big thank you to everyone, I’m pleased to finish the season and more or less my rallying career with a win,” admitted Seb on the team radio.
“Once again, we had to fight to get the win, as the unpredictable weather didn’t really make our task any easier. We’ll all enjoy this result together. Thank you, thank you for everything we’ve experienced together.
This marks the close of one chapter, but we’ve another ahead of us that is about to begin.”
After completing every rally and finishing on the podium ten times this season, Mikko Hirvonen also felt a sense of accomplishment: “We have improved again on tarmac, which was my main goal for this weekend.
Our first World Championship with Citroën is now behind us, and I think we can be pleased with what we have achieved. We'll be turning our attention very quickly to 2013.”
“This rally was extremely complicated, with day one on gravel, which was held in what you might describe as unpredictable conditions,” concluded Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal.
“This leg was more a question of surviving than racing. We saw a lot of competitors make costly mistakes but Seb and Mikko showed their race craft to keep out of trouble.
They knew that we’d be comfortable on tarmac and they managed the situation appropriately. We’re pleased to have secured our partner Michelin’s 250th win in WRC, and to have done so in appropriately varied conditions – gravel and tarmac, and in wet and dry conditions.”
(*) Subject to publication of the official results by the FIA.