Sebastien Loeb (CitroÃ«n-Michelin) back on top in the Drivers' championship As in New Zealand three weeks previously, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena (CitroÃ«n-Michelin) claimed a further emphatic win this weekend, this time over the gravel of...
Sebastien Loeb (Citroën-Michelin) back on top in the Drivers' championship
As in New Zealand three weeks previously, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena (Citroën-Michelin) claimed a further emphatic win this weekend, this time over the gravel of Rally Italia Sardinia, fifth round of the 2005 World Rally Championship. The Frenchman lost no time pulling clear of his two main rivals in the Drivers' title chase, Petter Solberg (2nd, Subaru) and Marcus Gronholm (3rd, Peugeot), while the new Michelin Z BTO tyre once again proved to be a very valuable asset.
The way this year's Rally Italia Sardinia unfolded was practically identical to the storyboard of the recent Rally New Zealand, at least as far as the championship's front-runners were concerned.
After taking command during Friday morning's opening loop of stages, Sebastien Loeb (Citroën-Michelin) chose the new hard compound Michelin Z BTO tyre for the afternoon's action as ground temperatures soared as high as 35C. The Frenchman profited from this group of three stages to pull out a morale-sapping advantage over his challengers and concluded the first leg with a lead of more than half a minute over Petter Solberg (Subaru), while Marcus Gronholm -- who had got off to a first class start -- lost a minute and a half when he rolled his Peugeot on SS3. The following day saw the reigning World Champion benefit from his Xsara WRC's outstanding reliability over the Mediterranean island's rough, narrow mountain tracks to double his lead at the top.
"Today's stages were long and very rough. In places, such as towards the end of SS8, the conditions were more reminiscent of the Acropolis Rally," commented Loeb. I took it steadily through the rougher portions but I upped my pace at the end of the afternoon. I wanted to go into Sunday with a sufficient cushion because the final leg was made up of six stages without service."
The final stage of the second leg effectively saw the Frenchman extend his lead over Solberg by 20 additional seconds. This weekend, while Loeb and Solberg swiftly emerged in the positions they would hold until the flag, a terrific battle raged to decide who would join them on the podium.
Saturday afternoon saw four drivers grouped within less than 20 seconds, namely Harri Rovanpera (Mitsubishi), Markko Martin (Peugeot), Toni Gardemeister (Ford-Michelin) and Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot). Unsurprisingly perhaps, this fierce scrap ended in tears for some, beginning with Toni Gardemeister who found himself without oil pressure.
The Finn was authorised to restart on Sunday morning under the SupeRally ruling and finally snatched 5th place. Then, on Leg 3, after brilliantly warding off the pressure exerted by his fellow Finn Gronholm, Rovanpera was eliminated when he broke his suspension four stages from home.
Third place at the finish finally fell to Gronholm ahead of his team-mate Markko Martin. The 2005 Rally Italia Sardinia was particularly tough on the cars but, this year, any driver who retires on Day 1 and/or Day 2 is authorised to re-join the event, albeit after incurring a significant time penalty for each stage missed. This rule enabled Francois Duval (Citroën- Michelin), who was 2nd behind Loeb before rolling badly on SS5, to take the start again on Saturday morning and go on to collect two points for Citroën, thereby strengthening