Loeb back on top with Rallye Deutschland victory

Loeb back on top with Rallye Deutschland victory

Sebastien Loeb was back on form this weekend, taking another World Rally Championship (WRC) victory at Rallye Deutschland, his eighth of the 2005 season, after the disappointment of the second place in Finland. Sébastien Loeb and Daniel...

Sebastien Loeb was back on form this weekend, taking another World Rally Championship (WRC) victory at Rallye Deutschland, his eighth of the 2005 season, after the disappointment of the second place in Finland.

S?bastien Loeb and Daniel Elena.
Photo by Citro?n Sport.
On the tight, unforgiving tarmac roads of western Germany, nestled among the scenic Mosel vineyards, the concrete of the Baumholder panzer training grounds and the fast roads of Saarbrucken, the combination of Citroen Xsara WRC and Michelin rubber was simply unbeatable.

"After just three stages, our main rivals in the championship were already a long way back," Loeb confirmed. "That says a great deal about the domination of the Xsara/Michelin package over our competitors."

Everyone knows that I consider the Deutschland Rally to be my home event," Loeb explained. "This is the rally my childhood friends come to watch and I really wanted to win it again; it's great to have succeeded. We pushed hard on day one, and then it was a case of controlling from in front."

Not only did Loeb notch up yet another victory, his teammate Francois Duval, who has struggled for much of 2005, took a strong second place, 37.4 seconds behind Loeb, but his total was nearly 90 seconds better than that of Marcus Gronholm, the winner in Finland three weeks ago.

"(Co-driver Sven Smeets) and I had the potential to win but the way the event unfolded meant that we had to make sure of finishing first and second," Duval said. "It was a little stressful because we couldn't afford to make any mistakes. To have shown that I am capable of matching Sebastian's speed is very important for me, for my confidence and for my future."

Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen.
Photo by Marlboro Peugeot Total.
Being the "best of the rest" wasn't really the title that Gronholm -- or his Peugeot team -- was looking for, but at least Gronholm had clear claim to that title. He may have finished the event just over two minutes (2:04.8, to be precise) adrift of Loeb, but he then had an almost identical 2:04.6 margin to the fourth-place man, his teammate Markko Martin.

I have to be pleased with third, as it was the best we could achieve here," Gronholm had to admit at the finish. "Nobody could compete with the Citroens -- they were in a class of their own here. Looking on the positive side, the car was totally reliable and we were faster than anybody else."

"I'm looking forward to getting back onto gravel (at Wales Rally GB)," the two-time champion continued. "I think we have a better chance of winning there!"

His key rival, Subaru's Petter Solberg, had a frustrating event, with a failure of the hydraulic gearbox selector on Saturday morning, losing two minutes on stage and another 90 seconds in penalties.

After that disaster, Solberg was able to drive at a good pace -- not at a Citroen pace, but a good pace nevertheless -- only losing a further 40 seconds to Gronholm over the span of the remaining event. Without the mechanical problems, that pace would have earned him fourth place, as his pace was clearly faster than that of Martin, but it is a battle of man and machine, and both must perform ... and in the end Solberg had to settle for seventh place and two championship points.

Petter Solberg and Phil Mills.
Photo by Subaru World Rally Team.
Martin, who inherited the fourth place from Solberg, had his own troubles early on, when a rock split his tire and the foam, forcing the Estonian to finish the stage on the rim, and costing him 30 seconds -- but fortunately not damaging his suspension. After Solberg's mishap it was easier, and Martin focused on bringing home the points.

"I lost time on the first day when a tyre came off the rim," he recounted. "By the end of (the second leg) I was back to fourth again and from then on it was just a question of holding that position. I had a bit of excitement today when the Ford of Daniel Sola held me up in the morning and I had to overtake him, but apart from that we had no dramas."

Martin's fourth place helped Peugeot earl nine manufacturers' points from the event, but that was no match for the 16 points Citroen earned from the Loeb-Duval one-two finish, and Peugeot had to give up the manufacturers' championship lead to its sister marque again.

Gianluigi Galli and Guido D'Amore.
Photo by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation.
Between Martin and Solberg were Gianluigi "Gigi" Galli in the leading Mitsubishi Lancer, and Roman Kresta in a Ford Focus RS, separated by less than nine seconds.

"I can't really believe it yet," Galli beamed. "Our goal was to do well but not push hard and go off the road. Everyone in the team worked really well and at lunchtime I felt great support and that gave me real confidence this afternoon. Today, we made no mistakes at all and that makes a difference."

"I could have driven faster (on the final day) but that would have meant taking risks, and I didn't want to do that," Kresta explained his side. "It's better to finish sixth than not at all. I really wanted the points and this is a good result for me and the BP-Ford team. The battle with Gigi was good for the spectators to watch but not so easy for me!"

Veteran German driver Armin Schwartz, driving a works Skoda Fabia, retired from his last Rallye Deutschland yesterday with a punctured radiator, as the result of an off-road excursion. Schwartz, 42, who has driven on the WRC circuit since 1988 with works rides with Toyota, Ford, Skoda and Hyundai, announced this weekend that he will be hanging up his helmet at the end of the season.

Loeb's victory moves him to 93 points, and puts him 32 ahead of Gronholm -- and into a position to clinch the championship, should the Finn falter on the Welsh gravel roads in three weeks. Still in with a mathematical chance at the championship are Solberg, fourth, at 55 points, Martin at 53, and Toni Gardemeister -- who suffered an electrical failure on his Ford Focus yesterday -- at 47 points.

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , Sébastien Loeb , Timo Rautiainen , Daniel Sola , Daniel Elena , Toni Gardemeister , Roman Kresta , Gianluigi Galli , Sven Smeets , Guido D'Amore , Markko Martin
Teams Citroën World Rally Team