By David C. Schilke
For the second consecutive year in the World Rally Championship, Sebastien Ogier has beaten his veteran Citroen teammate to the Rally de Portugal finish line. The young Frenchman started the final day in complete control with half a minute up on Sebastien Loeb.
It’s been a perfect weekend!
His Citroen DS3 worked perfectly on the final four stages, as Ogier played it conservatively today, having learned his lesson after crashing out of Rally Mexico in the same position earlier this month. This time around there were no embarrassments and Ogier ended the rally with six stage wins, the overall victory and an extra point for taking third in today’s Power Stage. The Citroen driver walks away fourth in the title hunt.
"It’s been a perfect weekend," smiled Ogier. "We controlled our first day well and then we pushed at the right moment. It’s a telling result for the whole team with the double and the points in the Power Stage. After six months without a win I was starting to get a bit edgy. I hope it’s the start of a good series. The points we’ve bagged today will help us relaunch our championship challenge after our disappointment in Rally Mexico. I’d like to thank the team for all their hard work. I’m as happy for them as I am for myself!”
Loeb had to settle for second but did hand Citroen the one, two finish they were looking for. The champion might have been in position for the win had he not been delayed Saturday by Mikko Hirvonen’s dust, causing Loeb to lose 30 seconds to Ogier. He made a small consolation today with first on the Power Stage, the extra three points helping him tie Hirvonen for the Championship lead.
“Our victory hopes were dashed yesterday when we lost thirty seconds in the dust thrown up by Mikko’s car,” commented Loeb. “Second was the best we could hope for. I knew it wouldn’t be easy to score the three bonus points in the Power Stage - but we did! It’s a positive result for us and for the whole team. These points will be very precious as the championship looks like being a very closely-fought one.”
Far back in time to the leading Citroen pair were the Fords of Jari-Matti Latvala and Hirvonen. Both Finns had a difficult rally this weekend with punctures and mechanical problems to their Fiestas. Latvala had lead the rally briefly after the first full day of competition but that was more due to the Citroen team’s strategy then Latvala’s pace.
The Finn still intended to fight for position until his driveshaft took him out of any chance for the win. Even with his Saturday woes Latvala was able to end the rally third and sits third in the points, "It's my third podium in three rallies so far this year and I'm pleased with that consistency. After my problems yesterday, a podium is a fantastic result. I feel confident with the car and I know that we can continue to work with its development to improve it even further."
It was a forgettable weekend for Hirvonen with his pace never close to that of his rivals. Two stage wins and fourth was all the Finn could manage in between his bad luck. Now tied with Loeb in the title fight Hirvonen and the Ford team will be desperate to improve the reliability of the new car.
"This was the best result I could hope for after losing time yesterday and this morning," explained Hirvonen. "I wanted to take extra points in the Power Stage but it wasn't to be. I'm leaving Portugal still in the lead of the championship. It's close and exciting, and I'm sure it will remain that way for the rest of the season."
The top five was rounded out by Stobart M-Sport driver Matthew Wilson. Citroen privateers Petter Solberg and Kimi Raikkonen took sixth and seventh respectably. Solberg might have been on the podium had the Norwegian not be forced to retire from leg 1 after incurring multiple punctures in the day.
Next up on the schedule is Rally Jordan starting April 14th. As the lowest altitude event to be held in 2011 temperatures will be hot, the dust thick and at least five drivers eager to break ahead of the pack and start their championship march.