WRC

Martin's Tour de Corse win hands WRC title to Loeb

Martin's Tour de Corse win hands WRC title to Loeb

Markko Martin dominated the this year's edition of the legendary Tour de Corse rally, the 14th round of the 2004 World Rally Championship. The Estonian ace claimed victories on seven of twelve stages and took overall victory in his Ford Focus...

Markko Martin dominated the this year's edition of the legendary Tour de Corse rally, the 14th round of the 2004 World Rally Championship. The Estonian ace claimed victories on seven of twelve stages and took overall victory in his Ford Focus with a margin of more than two minutes.

Podium: 2004 WRC champions S?bastien Loeb and Daniel Elena celebrate.
Photo by Citro?n Sport.
But the happiest driver at the finish was the second-place man, Sebastien Loeb. The eight points he scored for finishing behind Martin were enough to clinch the 2004 WRC drivers' championship, the first WRC title for Loeb, in addition to claiming the manufacturers' laurels for Citroen.

"Winning a championship as a French driver with a French team on French soil is as good as it can get," Loeb gushed at the finish, having jumped for joy after finishing the final stage. "I really let go, that's for sure."

The only man with even an outside chance of beating Loeb to the 2004 title was Petter Solberg, the defending champion. But to keep his chances alive, the Subaru pilot would have had to win the event, and Martin was having none of that.

Markko Martin and Michael Park.
Photo by Ford Motor Company.
"Corsica is the classic asphalt event and the ultimate one to win," Martin reflected. "It's been a brilliant weekend and we've had a really impressive run. Today was enjoyable but Friday and Saturday were really hard work. It was satisfying to be able to enjoy today after having put in the hard effort for the previous two days."

In the event, Solberg finished fifth, a full five minutes off Martin's pace, and also behind Loeb's Citroen teammate, Carlos Sainz, and two-time WRC champion Marcus Gronholm.

"Obviously I'm disappointed that the title race is over but that's just how it is," Solberg reflected. " We've shown this weekend that we have a lot of work to do before we are truly competitive in these conditions."

Martin's win was never really in doubt after the first day. While his Ford teammate, Francois Duval, held a 15-second lead at the end of the first leg, Martin took back that and more just on the first stage of the second day, and held a 20-second lead over Duval and a minute over Loeb after the second leg.

And on Sunday, it was another Markko Martin skills demonstration, while Loeb drove conservatively to ensure a points finish -- and the championship. While Martin took three of the four final stages, Loeb ran fourth or fifth on each one, usually 15-20 seconds behind his Ford rival.

Carlos Sainz and Marc Marti.
Photo by Citro?n Sport.
Behind Martin and Loeb, Sainz and Gronholm had their private battle, with the Finn trying to catch up to the Spanish veteran, and the two traded seconds back and forth. But in the end it was to no avail, and Sainz finished the rally 35 seconds ahead of the Peugeot pilot.

"It's been a long and tough three days," said Gronholm. "I started off with little confidence in the car's handling but the feeling got a bit better as I made a few small changes to the setup. We were also testing a few things which will be useful for the asphalt of Catalunya in the future."

While there are still two events left in the 2004 season -- Catalunya Rally in Spain, and Rally Australia -- with both championships decided, the thoughts are naturally starting to shift to next year. And Loeb has already received notice that repeating in 2005 will be no easy task.

"When I started my career, I had three goals," Martin explained. "One was to win the Rally Finland, one was to win on asphalt, preferably in Corsica, and the other was to win the world championship. I have achieved the first two so I only have one more to go."

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team