SÃ©bastien Loeb (CitroÃ«n-Michelin) in imperial form in the southern hemisphere The reigning World Champion SÃ©bastien Loeb and his CitroÃ«n-Xsara WRC- Michelin scored their second win of the season this weekend in New Zealand. The Frenchman's...
Sébastien Loeb (Citroën-Michelin) in imperial form in the southern hemisphere The reigning World Champion Sébastien Loeb and his Citroën-Xsara WRC- Michelin scored their second win of the season this weekend in New Zealand.
The Frenchman's huge talent and his new Michelin Z 'BTO' tyres saw him finish clear of the three-times previous winner of this event, Marcus Grönholm (2nd, Peugeot), while Petter Solberg (Subaru), winner of the past two rounds of the 2005 championship, followed in 3rd place.
The 2004 World Champion provided further evidence of his mental strength this weekend as he collected his maiden win in Rally New Zealand following consecutive 4th-place finishes here in 2003 and 2004.
The Frenchman's skill, his perfectly set-up Citroën Xsara WRC and his new Michelin Z 'BTO' tyres -- which were competitive out of the box -- quickly emerged as the combination to beat over this event's highly specific terrain.
Loeb took control after the opening group of fast, technically demanding stages which he completed ahead of Grönholm and Solberg, the three drivers at that point split by less than a second! But then, as ground temperatures climbed to peak at 30°C on Friday afternoon, the Citroën driver switched to the latest hard compound Michelin Z 'BTO' tyres which helped him pull out an enviable cushion over his two chasers by the end of Day 1.
"The car was perfectly balanced and my Michelin tyres were strong all the way through Friday's second group. They gave me the confidence to push hard despite the difficult stages," revealed Loeb at the finish.
The following day -- the longest of the rally, with a menu of 140 km of against-the- clock action -- saw the Citroën driver repeat the same scenario: after setting similar times to his rivals over the first three stages of Leg 2, he profited from the second pass to extend his advantage over Grönholm and Solberg to around the minute mark.
This handsome lead enabled him to relax and control from in front during the final leg, although that didn't stop him from shaving three seconds off the previous best time for the legendary Whaanga Coast test to establish a new outright record for this classic stage!
Thanks to this superb win, Sébastien Loeb moves into second place in the provisional Drivers' championship classification, just one point behind Solberg, while Citroën-Michelin is also now second in the Manufacturers' standings.
"This win is the result of a collective effort. After the two years we have spent familiarising ourselves with the specific challenge of Rally New Zealand, the Xsara has progressed for sure, but our Michelin tyres have enabled us to make a big leap forward," declared Citroën Sport's team boss Guy Fréquelin.