Rally Sardinia started with a tough battle for Sebastien Loeb, but in the end, the defending champion coasted to an easy victory in this weekend's World Rally Championship event. The win was fifth in a row for the dynamic duo. Loeb has now won...
Rally Sardinia started with a tough battle for Sebastien Loeb, but in the end, the defending champion coasted to an easy victory in this weekend's World Rally Championship event.
The win was fifth in a row for the dynamic duo. Loeb has now won every WRC event in 2006 after Marcus Gronholm's two wins to open the season. Notably the victory was the 25th for him and his co-driver Daniel Elena, who now becomes the record-holder for most WRC co-driver wins, surpassing Luis Moya, the longtime co-driver of WRC legend Carlos Sainz.
"Victory always tastes sweet, but this one is special," Loeb explained. "For Daniel, it's a historic moment. Knowing just how much I want to beat Carlos Sainz's record myself, I can easily imagine exactly how Daniel is feeling now, after becoming the first co-driver to chalk up 25 wins."
The French ace rally driver needs only one more victory to tie Sainz.
Loeb's victory, for Team Kronos in his Citroen Xsara WRC, was more than convincing, with a margin of two minutes and 41 seconds over the second-placed Mikko Hirvonen. Third was Loeb's teammate, Daniel Sordo, another 46 minutes adrift of Hirvonen, underscoring Loeb's impressive performance.
No one was able to mount a serious challenge to Loeb on the narrow gravel roads of the Mediterranean island on Saturday or Sunday. And Marcus Gronholm, who built up a convincing lead on Friday, fell by the wayside on th final stage of the first leg after hitting a rock, leaving Loeb free to cruise to victory.
The second place was Hirvonen's best finish to date, bettering his third place in a privateer Ford Focus in last year's Rally de Catalunya.
"Finally everything has come together for me this weekend and it feels fantastic to finish second on a WRC event," the young Finn explained. "I just have one more step to reach the top level of the podium."
"The roads were rougher then they looked on the recce but they were enjoyable to drive," he continued. "Sardinia is a good island for me and it seems to have a good history for Finns. More than anything this weekend I have learned how to drive in these conditions without taking any risks and yet still achieve a good result."
Behind the leading trio, it was a big gap once again: Xavier Pons was next, in the third Kronos entry -- and the second nominated one for Kronos -- but still finished two minutes behind Sordo, and nearly five and a half minutes off Loeb's pace.
"Sardinia is a very difficult rally," the Spaniard explained. "I feel less at ease here than I did in Argentina, maybe because of the narrow stages. Securing the manufacturer points for third place was my priority since yesterday afternoon, so I was very careful throughout the second half of the rally."
Jussi Valimaki scored an impressive fifth place in his first WRC attempt in a competitive car, finishing a minute and 40 seconds behind Pons in a 2005-spec Mitsubishi Lancer WRC. The 2005 Asia-Pacific rally champion was seven minutes from the lead, so he won't be threatening Loeb quite yet.
"It was a good finish, but too big a gap to the front," Valimaki summed up his result. "It has been a year and a half since I last drove a WRC car, and it shows. The level of competition in WRC is so high, that you can't just walk in and drive for wins!"
Valimaki looked set for seventh place -- which would have still been a career-best result -- but gained two places in the final stage, as Subaru's Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson dropped out of the points, with steering arm failure and an accident, respectively.
"It's been a hard event for me," Solberg explained. "I tried as hard as I could all weekend but the overall result is disappointing. There's not really a lot more to say. We're looking forward to the next event now. I like the Acropolis Rally a lot and I'll give it my best shot."
Kristian Sohlberg took sixth in a Red Devil Subaru Impreza, followed by Manfred Stohl (OMV-Norway Peugeot 307) and Francois Duval (Skoda Fabia WRC).