Four in a row on gravel for phenomenal Loeb! By claiming the 15th world class win of his rallying career, and also his fifth from seven starts in 2005 -- as well as his fourth in a row! --, the defending World Champion Sebastien Loeb ...
Four in a row on gravel for phenomenal Loeb!
By claiming the 15th world class win of his rallying career, and also his fifth from seven starts in 2005 -- as well as his fourth in a row! --, the defending World Champion Sebastien Loeb (Citroen-Michelin) has pulled 13 points clear of Petter Solberg (2nd, Subaru) and 17 points clear of Markko Martin (5th, Peugeot) in the Drivers' standings. Back in action after an absence of seven months, Carlos Sainz (4th) harvested five extra Manufacturers' points for Citroen-Michelin which takes the team to within just four points of Peugeot with just one encounter remaining before the end of the season's first half (the Acropolis Rally, June 23rd-26th).
After his victory in Turkey in 2004, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena were back in their winning ways in Kemer after emerging in total control practically from flag to flag. Their Xsara WRC once again proved perfectly reliable and, assisted by their competitive, ever-durable Michelin tyres, the reigning champs completed the distance with a cushion of more than a minute over Norway's Petter Solberg who also trails the Frenchman in the provisional Drivers' championship standings.
A minute is in fact the gap that Sebastien Loeb pulled out during the long opening leg of this year's Rally of Turkey (150 km of stages) which was marked by poor weather which left the stages muddy and particularly treacherous in places. Even before the start, heavy rain had fallen over the Anatolian Mountains, while the ominous clouds which gathered over the peaks inland of Kemer on the afternoons of Friday and Saturday made tyre choice extremely difficult.
Michelin's own route observers, who kicked off their working day at 2 a.m. each morning, did a first class job passing on the most up-to-date and accurate information possible concerning the state of the stages to the firm's partners throughout the weekend. With a score of seven fastest times to his name from a possible eight, Sebastien Loeb was in blistering form on Day 1 which he concluded with a lead of more than a minute lead over the surprising 'Gigi' Galli (8th, Mitsubishi).
At the end of the muddy SS4, the Italian even momentarily gave Mitsubishi the lead in a WRC round for the first time since Tommi Mâkinen topped the standings in the 2001 Safari Rally with his Lancer-Michelin. But despite taking things cautiously through the muddier portions, and also despite his unfavourable position as first driver on the road, Loeb was soon back in front and pulling clear of his chasers for whom the writing was pretty much on the wall by the end of Leg 1. After 'Gigi' Galli was delayed by a turbo problem on Saturday morning, the scrap for 2nd place turned into a duel between Solberg and Gronholm, while Martin (Peugeot) and Gardemeister (6th, Ford-Michelin) were involved in their own fight for 5th.
Solberg had to give it everything he had all the way to the end of the final stage to defeat the ever combative Gronholm, yet the Norwegian was far from satisfied with his silver medal at the finish: "I'm beginning to get a bit tired of coming second," he confessed -- a little dejected -- at the finish.
Gardemeister was delayed by a puncture in SS15 which allowed the Estonian to come out on top in their particular battle. Even so, 6th and 7th (Kresta) spots for Ford-Michelin enabled the British-based team to celebrate its 51st consecutive WRC outing in the Manufacturers' points.
On the other hand, Skoda-Michelin had plenty on their plates during the event which was new to the Fabia WRC. Only one of its cars reached the finish (Tuohino, 13th) after Armin Schwarz's retirement on the first day.
In three weeks time, the World Rally Championship moves on to Greece for the celebrated Acropolis Rally, the final encounter of this season's 'Mediterranean Trilogy'.
BRAVO, SEB & DANIEL...
Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena's success three weeks ago in Cyprus was a little tainted by the fact that Gronholm and Solberg were both eliminated from the scrap by mechanical problems very early on. In Turkey, however, the Citroen-Michelin pair came out on top after a straight fight thanks notably to their excellent start on Day 1.
...AND TO CARLOS & MARC.!
The two-times World Champion celebrated his return to active competition after a seven-month absence with an outstanding 4th place in Kemer.
THE WORLD CHAMPION'S 15th...
Victory in Turkey takes Sebastien Loeb's score to a total of 15 WRC wins, all of which have been obtained with Citroen-Michelin. In the rankings of drivers running on Michelin tyres, Loeb is now only one win behind Marcus Gronholm (16) and Juha Kankkunen (16). The record to beat remains Tommi Makinen who is rallying's most successful driver on Michelin tyres with a total of 23 wins to his name.
Citroen and Michelin have notched up a total of 20 WRC wins together since the creation of the World Rally Championship in 1973 (which puts the association's score level with that of the Ford/Michelin partnership) thanks to Sebastien Loeb (15 wins), Carlos Sainz (2), Philippe Bugalski (2) and Jesus Puras (1)
WIN n4 FOR THE MICHELIN Z BTO...
Following its successful launch last April in New Zealand, the new Michelin Z BTO tyre secured its 4th win this weekend in Turkey where Michelin's partners chose either the '9' (medium) or '9+' (hard) compound as a function of the ground temperature and anticipated weather conditions. As expected, tyre wear was not a key factor.
Thanks to Carlos Sainz/Marc Marti and Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena, Citroen-Michelin has won all three Rallies of Turkey to have counted towards the WRC to date. Sainz won in freezing conditions in February 2003, while Loeb triumphed over sun-baked tracks in June 2004 before repeating his performance in this year's mud.
DIFFICULT TYRE CHOICES...
Tyre choices were significantly complicated by this weekend's fickle weather conditions, especially since certain choices had to be made up to 2½ hours before the actual stage start. For up-to-date information, Michelin runners were able to count on the services of Michelin's route observers who began their working day as early as 2 a.m.! And once again, the drivers' individual pre-rally tyre choices (which had to be nominated at the end of May based on discussion between the drivers, engineers and technicians) proved particularly critical.
NEXT UP: GREECE...
The WRC moves on to Lamia in Greece in three weeks time for the Acropolis Rally where tyres once again promise to be a major talking point.