Loeb + CitroÃ«n + Michelin: on top again in Germany! CitroÃ«n-Michelin driver SÃ©bastien Loeb came out on top of a nail-biting duel with reigning World Champion Marcus GrÃ¶nholm (2nd, Peugeot-Michelin) this weekend to secure his second victory...
Loeb + Citroën + Michelin: on top again in Germany!
Citroën-Michelin driver Sébastien Loeb came out on top of a nail-biting duel with reigning World Champion Marcus Grönholm (2nd, Peugeot-Michelin) this weekend to secure his second victory in as many years in Germany. Their clash took place to a background of constantly switching weather conditions which made getting tyre choice right particularly crucial. With Richard Burns taking 3rd spot with his Peugeot 206 WRC, Michelin monopolised the podium of the 2003 season's first showdown on 'clear' asphalt, a surface on which it remains unbeaten since the 1998 Sanremo Rally! The weekend also brought Michelin its 199th WRC win since the creation of the World Championship in 1973. Just one more to go.
A year after securing his maiden WRC win in Germany in 2002, Sébastien Loeb and his Xsara WRC were back in winning form this weekend on terrain made particularly treacherous by rapidly changing weather conditions. Tyre choices, which occasionally had to be made as much as three hours before the start of certain stages, played a capital role in the way the second and third legs unfolded. Especially since this year the programme featured groups of two or three stages that each time took competitors from the Mosel vineyards east of Trier, to the Hunsrück region to the southeast and to the Saarland tests further to the southwest.
Prior to the start of Sunday's final loop of three stages, a mere thirteen seconds split Sébastien Loeb and Marcus Grönholm as rain began to fall harder than ever over the Bostalsee service park. With just over 50km remaining, the anticipated breathtaking finale could begin... To simplify matters, the two drivers opted for identical tyre choices (wet weather patterns re-cut to increase their water clearance capacity) and, despite a last minute charge from the defending champ in the ultimate test, the young Frenchman held on to his lead by the slender margin of just 3.6 seconds.
Having completed the sunny opening leg in top spot, the 2003 championship leader Richard Burns (3rd, Peugeot-Michelin) fell back slightly on Day 2, but then found the strength to fight back to snatch a place on the podium from Scotland's Colin McRae (4th, Citroën-Michelin). Despite not winning, today's result has allowed Burns to actually increase his cushion in the provisional championship standings over Carlos Sainz (Citroën-Michelin), while Peugeot and Citroën are now separated by just seven points.
Making its debut on asphalt, the latest evolution Ford Focus WRC-Michelin proved particularly competitive and Markko Märtin (5th) was the only driver to contest the supremacy of the French cars. The Estonian driver had something of a seesaw rally however in terms of his overall position. Friday's action saw him momentarily take the lead but a gearbox problem relegated him to 10th place. The following day he posted an impressive string of six fastest stage times to conclude the day on the overnight podium but transmission troubles on the Sunday dropped him two places by the end of the rally. Meanwhile, his teammate François Duval (7th, Ford- Michelin) was unable to contain the late pressure of Sainz who squeezed past the Belgian to finish in 6th place towards the end of the rally.
Despite the challenging weather conditions, there were surprisingly few retirements amongst the top names in Germany. Tommi Mäkinen (Subaru) was the first to go out on the Friday (alternator), while neither of the two new Skoda Fabia WRCs reached the finish; Didier Auriol suffered engine failure and Toni Gardemeister was sidelined with suspension problems.
Another WRC asphalt clean sweep for Michelin
Tyre choice masters. Rapidly changing weather on Days 2 and 3, plus the event's challenging mix of asphalt and concrete over the infamous Baumholder military ranges turned the 2003 Rallye Deutschland into a Masters' degree course in tyre choice.
For all the WRC drivers, the special difficulty was predicting exactly what the fast-varying conditions would be for stages scheduled as much as 3 hours (!) after the moment the final choice had to be made...
The ability of Michelin's WRC asphalt products to run competitively in a broad range of conditions, the reactivity of Michelin's technicians and fitters when it came to hand-cutting the patterns to match the conditions of the moment as closely as possible, as well as the Clermont-Ferrand firm's unrivalled experience at this level of competition ensured that its solutions were a match for this highly complex situation.
10 + 7 + 5 100% Michelin. Three different manufacturers figured in the German round's fastest stage time statistics.
Ford-Michelin, who led an asphalt event this weekend for the first time since their victory with Michelin in Catalonia in 1999 (with Colin McRae), secured 10 best times thanks to Markko Märtin, while Peugeot-Michelin (Burns 4, Grönholm 2, Kresta 1) and Citroën-Michelin (Loeb and McRae 2, Sainz 1) posted 7 and 5 fastest times respectively.
In the fight. In addition to the teams the sport has become accustomed to seeing battling for victory on asphalt in recent years (Citroën-Michelin, Peugeot-Michelin), the combination of the last evolution Ford Focus WRC and Michelin tyres demonstrated its ability to take the fight to the French manufacturers...
The countdown continues. Sébastien Loeb's exciting win in Germany with the Citroën Xsara WRC takes Michelin's score in the 2003 World Rally Championship to seven wins from the eight rounds organised so far.
It also takes its total since the creation of the championship in 1973 to a record 199 wins. Its next success will therefore be its 200th in world class rallying.
Secret. The crucial importance of tyre choice was underlined at service before the final group of stages. The whole Peugeot team formed a human shield around Marcus Grönholm's car to prevent Citroën spotters seeing what tyres the Finn had chosen for the all-important final group of stages. It was done in a fun, tongue-in-cheek manner, but the objective couldn't have been more serious.