Citroen driver Sebastien Loeb has claimed his first victory in the FIA World Rally Championship on the 10th round of this year's series, the Rallye Deutschland, which finished in Trier this afternoon. The young Frenchman and navigator Daniel Elena...
Citroen driver Sebastien Loeb has claimed his first victory in the FIA World Rally Championship on the 10th round of this year's series, the Rallye Deutschland, which finished in Trier this afternoon. The young Frenchman and navigator Daniel Elena resisted intense pressure from the reigning world champion, Richard Burns, to hang on to their overnight lead and emerge victorious by less than 20 seconds. Current series leader Marcus Grönholm extended his points advantage by finishing third.
Today's final leg was held on more traditional roads, less abrasive but narrower and more twisty than the Baumholder military ranges that caused such havoc among the leading crews yesterday. But some of the top stars still hit trouble; Harri Rovanperä retired his Peugeot with accident damage, while Carlos Sainz missed out on a potential points finish when he stalled on the start line of one stage and struggled to restart his Ford's engine.
Technical: The Xsara WRC of Sebastien Loeb has been reliable today.
Sporting: Sebastien Loeb secured the first world championship rally win of his career today. The Frenchman and his navigator Daniel Elena faced stiff opposition all day from the pursuing Richard Burns, but they matched the Englishman's pace on many stages and pinched back seconds where possible to keep their advantage. At one point, their cushion was axed to well under 10 seconds but by the finish, Loeb had bolstered his winning margin to around 14 seconds. The success was all the sweeter for Loeb because he was denied victory in Monte Carlo by a tyre rule infringement earlier this season.
Quotes: Sebastien Loeb said: "I'm delighted to get my first victory, of course. Monte Carlo earlier this year was not really a victory for me so this is like the first real win. This is really like my home rally and there were a lot of fans around here for me, all wanting me to win. I'm pleased for them as well. Yesterday was a very difficult day - we made a few small mistakes - but we knew this morning that Richard would push so we just tried our best and it was enough."
Citroen Sport team chief Guy Frequelin said: "I'm very pleased with the performance of Sebastien and Daniel here. They were under a lot of pressure this morning but I didn't have to talk to them about their approach at all."
Technical: The 206 WRCs of both Marcus Grönholm and Richard Burns have been reliable today. Harri Rovanperä's car ran without problems before he damaged it terminally in an accident in SS19.
Sporting: Try as he might, Richard Burns was unable to catch Sebastien Loeb today, and the reigning world champion was forced to settle for second overall. Burns felt that today's stages were more enjoyable to drive than the Baumholder ranges but the nature of the roads and the dry surfaces seemed to offer him less scope to eat into Loeb's advantage. The Englishman closed to within eight seconds at one point, but his attacked met stern resistance in the later stages and by the finish, he was over 14 seconds off the top spot. His team-mate Marcus Grönholm tried to charge on the opening stage this morning in an attempt to close in on the leading duo, but he slid off the road briefly and lost a few seconds instead. He decided thereafter to settle for third overall, a result which extended his lead in the drivers' championship and guaranteed Peugeot a maximum points score in the manufacturers' series. The third Peugeot 206 WRC driver, Harri Rovanperä, was forced to retire from a potential top 10 placing this morning. His car lost its rear wing on the day's second stage and the resulting poor handling caught out the Finn on the following test, when he crashed out.
Quotes: Richard Burns said: "I tried absolutely everything but Sebastien held on well today - congratulations to him. It's been a difficult event for everyone and I think I lost a little bit too much time in a few stages yesterday. In the end, I'd say that made the difference. At least I feel on top of the 206 WRC on asphalt and I can go to Sanremo next month with even more confidence."
Marcus Gronholm said: "If we hadn't had our hydraulic problems on the opening day then we could have been closer to the lead battle and yes, I think I might have had a chance to win if we'd fought very hard. This morning I tried to push but we slid wide and ended up in a field at one point on the opening stage, so I realised then there was no point to take any more risks."
Technical: The Focus RS WRC02 of Colin McRae has been reliable today. Carlos Sainz's car, however, refused to restart after the Spaniard stalled on the start line of SS17. He lost well over a minute before the engine could be coaxed back into life. Markko Martin complained of a misfire in SS19 but that aside, his car ran without major problems today.
Sporting: Colin McRae started today with little to gain from taking risks - he was too far behind the leading three to really threaten them, and that continued to the finish as the Scot concentrated on making no mistakes in the closing stages. He eventually bagged fourth, albeit more than two and a half minutes behind third-placed Grönholm. His team-mate Carlos Sainz lost time on this morning's opening stage, when he stalled on the start line. His car crept forward on its starter motor and broke the timing beam, but it refused to fire back into life for around a minute and a half. The Spaniard dropped to the bottom of the top 10 as a result, although he fought back to eighth by the finish. The third Focus WRC driver, Markko Martin, finished sixth overall after fending off a determined late charge from Tommi Mäkinen in this afternoon's tests.
Quotes: Colin McRae said: "There was nothing we could do today but then, it's been like that for most of the event. The championship's looking pretty far off now - I think Sanremo will be a hard event for us next month as well and if Peugeot is as quick in New Zealand and Australia as it was in Finland, then I think we'll have a job to match their pace there as well. It's frustrating, because we've improved, but if anything we seem further behind the French cars on asphalt."
Technical: The Lancer Evo WRC2 of Francois Delecour has been reliable today.
Sporting: Francois Delecour felt that his Lancer was less suited to the dry conditions and narrower roads that it faced today, and he was unable to repeat the sort of form that had taken him up the leaderboard yesterday. The Frenchman eventually finished in ninth, although that was good enough to score a single manufacturers' point for Mitsubishi. He lost time in the day's opening stage after he was stopped by marshals at the scene of Armin Kremer's accident, but event officials later allocated Delecour a 'notional' time that better reflected his likely performance.
Quotes: Francois Delecour said: "We can see very clearly that the car is good on the wider roads when we can really attack, but when it's narrow and dry it's still difficult. We need to do a lot of work before Sanremo but the engineers have taken some ideas away from here and hopefully some of them can be introduced before that event."
Technical: The last remaining Impreza WRC2002 of Tommi Mäkinen has run without major problems today.
Sporting: Tommi Mäkinen had been in much improved form since he reverted to an older car set-up yesterday and that trend continued until the last stage this afternoon. The Finn's charge wasn't quite enough to earn him a drivers championship point - he finished just over six seconds behind sixth-placed Markko Martin - but his efforts did earn two manufacturers' points for Subaru.
Quotes: Tommi Mäkinen said: "It's been a very difficult event for us. We didn't have a good feeling with the car on Friday and the handbrake problem was a bad start. Yesterday we definitely improved the set-up of the car and since then, I've concentrated on getting my confidence back and feeling comfortable with the Impreza on asphalt again. I think we've achieved that now so we can at least go to Sanremo ready to fight."
Technical: The sole remaining Octavia WRC of Kenneth Eriksson has been reliable today.
Sporting: Kenneth Eriksson started today's stages outside of the top 10 and with little reason to charge, although the problems that hit Carlos Sainz and Harri Rovanperä did briefly raise the possibility of him scoring a manufacturers' point for Skoda. In the end, though, the veteran Swede finished 10th overall for the Czech manufacturer.
Quotes: Kenneth Eriksson said: "We didn't really have much to gain today apart from more experience of these stages, but I'm glad that we've managed to reach the finish. We had quite a few problems and I know we could have been higher up, but this has been a tricky event for everyone."
Belgian driver Bruno Thiry was easily the top privately-entered World Rally Car as he took his customer-specification Peugeot 206 WRC to fifth overall. But there was late heartbreak for German driver Armin Kremer, who crashed his Ford Focus WRC heavily into some crash barriers on this morning's opening stage and retired from a potential top-10 finish.