WRC

Loeb on form in Catalunya victory

Sebastien Loeb claimed a convincing victory for the Kronos Citroen team in this weekend's Rally Catalunya, the fourth round of the 2006 World Rally Championship, with a margin of 48 seconds over his teammate, Daniel Sordo. "The early part of the...

Sebastien Loeb claimed a convincing victory for the Kronos Citroen team in this weekend's Rally Catalunya, the fourth round of the 2006 World Rally Championship, with a margin of 48 seconds over his teammate, Daniel Sordo.

"The early part of the rally was quite difficult and I really had to push hard to keep up with Gronholm," the defending WRC champion said at the finish. "But when he was slowed by mechanical problems I was able to control from in front."

Xavier Pons had been on pace for third -- that would have made it an all-Citroen podium -- and was 35 seconds adrift of Sordo after SS9. On the next stage, though, he slid off the road and down a hillside, handing third place to Alex Bengue in a privateer Peugeot 307 WRC.

But Marcus Gronholm, driving the Ford Focus RS WRC 06, drove like a man possessed on today's final leg, and set the fastest time on each of the final stages, finishing the rally with 10 victories on the 16 stages.

"I tried really hard this morning but Bengue was pushing us," Gronholm recounted. "It was hard to make an impact on those stages because they were so fast. After Friday's problems, everything has been perfect. I could have won without a small technical problem. I knew before the start I could be close to Loeb and the speed of the Focus RS was there for all to see."

However, the two-time champion's turbocharger wastegate failed on SS5 while leading the rally, and lost two and a half minutes on Friday's final two stages, dropping back to 10th place. The torrid drive was enough to lift him to third place and six championship points, but no more.

"I'm disappointed, of course, but also surprised because I had no problem like this in testing," Gronholm said on Friday. "Everything was going so well and for the first time ever I was beating Sebastien on asphalt."

Bengue, then, took fourth, beating Skoda Fabia WRC drivers Jan Kopecky and Francois Duval, who finished fifth and sixth, respectively.

Petter Solberg had another disappoining race for Subaru, finishing in seventh place in the Impreza WRC 2006, and his teammate, Stephane Sarrazin, claimed the final championship point with an eighth-place finish.

"Spain has been a very tough rally for us," Solberg admitted. "We had hoped to get more points, but instead we have had to work hard to get those we did get."

The rally was marred by a fatal incident on Friday's second stage: Jorg Bastuck, Aaron Burkart's co-driver, was changing a wheel after their car slid off the road, when the Ford Fiesta piloted by Barry Clark went off at the same corner.

Bastuck was quickly flown to the Joan XXIII Hospital in Tarragona, but all attempts at saving his life failed. As a gesture of respect, no podium ceremonies were held after the finish today.

Loeb now loads the drivers' championship with 36 points to Gronholm's 27 at the one-quarter mark of the season. Sordo, Manfred Stohl and Solberg are next, but well back, at 14, 11 and 10 points, respectively.

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team