Loeb's 30th WRC win, and the CitroÃ«n C4 WRC's first success on gravel SÃ©bastien Loeb and Daniel Elena were back in their winning ways this weekend. The fact that Rally Mexico marked the new BFGoodrich-shod CitroÃ«n C4 WRC's debut on gravel ....
Loeb's 30th WRC win, and the Citroën C4 WRC's first success on gravel
Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena were back in their winning ways this weekend. The fact that Rally Mexico marked the new BFGoodrich-shod Citroën C4 WRC's debut on gravel . the surface which makes up more than half the World Championship . added to the significance of their triumph. Loeb's main rival Marcus Grönholm recovered from a slow start to claim 2nd place, while his Ford/BFGoodrich team-mate Mikko Hirvonen came out of his fierce fight with Dani Sordo (Citroën/BFGoodrich) and Chris Atkinson (Subaru/BFGoodrich) to clinch 3rd spot on the final morning.
The Rally Mexico has been the first gravel fixture of the last four WRC campaigns and, as such, is eagerly awaited by observers as a form guide following the more specific winter rounds that traditionally kick off the championship.
This year's trip across the Atlantic was viewed as particularly significant in that it marked the loose surface debut of two new cars: the Citroën C4 WRC and the 2007-spec Subaru Impreza WRC. Thursday gave an early idea of the pecking order when Dani Sordo, Sébastien Loeb and Petter Solberg topped the shakedown timesheets and everyone was keen to see whether that trend would continue when the event kicked off on Friday morning.
The first three stages of Leg 1 were wide and fast, and took crews to altitudes in excess of 2,000 metres in the arid sierra between Leon and Guanajuato. They also confirmed shakedown's pecking order as Solberg's new Impreza WRC and Loeb's Citroën C4 WRC battled for the early supremacy, tailed by Atkinson (Impreza) and Sordo (C4).
Meanwhile, Ford's Marcus Grönholm and Mikko Hirvonen, the dominating forces of the last two rounds, followed further back in 5th and 6th places. As provisional leaders of the Drivers' standings, the two Finns were first on the road and were forced to cut a clean line through for their rivals further down the order, always a big handicap in Mexico.
When crews returned to the same stages on Friday afternoon, they had pretty much been swept clean, while ground temperatures soared to 50°C in the glorious sunshine as a thrilling battle began to shape up between Loeb and Solberg, as in 2006. But also like last year, their duel ended prematurely when the Subaru's oil cooler began to leak, stopping the Norwegian in his tracks between SS5 and SS6 and leaving Loeb on his own up front. The following day, a score of four fastest times enabled the Frenchman to put the finishing touches to his 30th world class win (his second in a row in Mexico) which takes him to 2nd place in the Drivers' standings behind Grönholm.
Although the Finn didn't get off to an ideal start, an excellent run on the morning of Day 2 enabled him to climb from overnight 5th to 2nd overall by Saturday lunchtime. By this stage, however, he was practically a minute adrift of Loeb and knew he had little chance of catching the Citroën driver, so he was happy to settle for the silver medal and 8 points. Even so, he had to maintain a quick pace on Saturday afternoon because of the battle waging in his wake between a trio of youngsters all looking to join him on the podium.
Dani Sordo, Mikko Hirvonen and Chris Atkinson finished Day 2 in that order after a blistering second day, but they all also had tales of how they had lost valuable seconds: Sordo was slowed by hanging dust and Atkinson landed awkwardly after a jump, while Hirvonen reported a spin. At the start of Leg 3, Sordo led Hirvonen by 2.8s and Atkinson by 12.6s. But Mikko Hirvonen profited from the final day to edge past the Spaniard to clinch a top-three finish.
Sébastien Loeb (Citroën/BFGoodrich)
"We were keen to see where he stood on the loose and the car turned out to be perfect. I felt comfortable with the C4 WRC from start to finish. When Petter retired, there were still two days to go so I tried to keep up a good pace in order to stay concentrated. I think the fight will be very close this year between six drivers and three manufacturers."
Patrick Letort, Chief Technician, BFGoodrich
"The Citroën C4 WRC is clearly competitive and the Subaru Impreza WRC2007 seems to be a well-sorted car. I think the way this year's Rally Mexico unfolded promises some great competition between the three manufacturers registered for the World Championship on the coming gravel rallies. This weekend, the BFGoodrich runners used two types of tyre: the familiar g-Force Gravel (medium and hard compound) and the wider g-Force Gravel H1. For three of the four long-haul rounds, the regulations allow drivers to choose 12 'joker' tyres. That is to say they can trade 12 of their originally nominated tyres for an alternative choice a week before the start. In Mexico and New Zealand, these 'joker' tyres can have a different tread pattern. The BFGoodrich drivers profited from this rule to choose the wider g-Force Gravel H1 for this weekend's rally because of the anticipated high temperatures and the long loops. The H1 was used on Friday afternoon as ground temperatures reached 47°C. Saturday's dirtier stages and cooler temperatures (30°C) did not necessitate use of the H1 tyre."