Two weeks after their triumph in Monte Carlo, SÃ©bastien Loeb, CitroÃ«n and Michelin were once again the stars in snowy Sweden, taking the driver/car/tyre combination to a grand-slam in the 2004 World Rally Championship two winter events. In...
Two weeks after their triumph in Monte Carlo, Sébastien Loeb, Citroën and Michelin were once again the stars in snowy Sweden, taking the driver/car/tyre combination to a grand-slam in the 2004 World Rally Championship two winter events. In beating the local specialists in this icy sprint across the Värmland, Loeb also makes rallying history by becoming the first non-Nordic driver to win this highly specific event. The Citroën-Michelin driver thwarted three-times Swedish Rally winner Marcus Grönholm (2nd, Peugeot-Michelin) by the handsome margin of 46 seconds to give Michelin its 21st success in Karlstad since 1979!
Sébastien Loeb's 2004 World Championship campaign has got off to a perfect start. Still buzzing from his recent Monte Carlo success, the Citroën-Michelin driver made it two wins from two this weekend thanks to a faultless run in Sweden to conclude the WRC's 'winter campaign' with a 7-point margin in the Drivers' points table.
At the same time, the 29-year old Frenchman made rally history by stemming one of the sport's longest standing records: since the inaugural Swedish Rally in 1950, nobody from outside of Sweden of neighbouring Finland had until now succeeded in beating the locals in this highly specialised, high-speed snowy sprint. Today, the myth of the 'home-grown' stars' invincibility has at last been broken.
Loeb took command on the second day of the rally when Ford-Michelin's Markko Märtin (7th) was forced to limp through SS11 after smashing his rear-left suspension against a rock concealed in a snow-bank. Before him, the early pacesetter and three-times previous Swedish Rally winner Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot-Michelin) had also fallen down the leaderboard when his power steering failed halfway through Day 1.
Indeed, with the exception of a 360° spin early in the rally, Loeb was the only top driver to come through the weekend without losing time with either mechanical problems or an off. In typically mature fashion, and despite the relatively small amount of snow and ice on the first day, he kept his head down during the difficult conditions of the opening stages to complete Leg 1 in 2nd place, behind Märtin.
By the following evening he was in front with a healthy margin of more than 40 seconds over Grönholm and, as snow began to fall in earnest over the picturesque Värmland on Sunday morning, he had no difficulty controlling from in front to collect his first non-asphalt WRC success.
Marcus Grönholm eventually took the flag in 2nd position, joined on the podium by Subaru's Petter Solberg (3rd), while one-off Ford-Michelin recruit Janne Tuohino paid back the confidence placed in him by the British-based team by coming out on top in a thrilling last-day battle with Carlos Sainz to secure 4th place. An overheating engine prompted the Spaniard elected to ease off through the final tests to make sure of 5th and four extra Manufacturers' points that take defending champions Citroën-Michelin to the top of the 2004 provisional standings after two rounds from sixteen.
Best-placed privateer was Petter Solberg's older brother Henning (6th, Peugeot-Michelin), while Mitsubishi-Michelin's visit to Sweden with the fledgling Lancer WRC ended in retirements for Gilles Panizzi and Kristian Sohlberg, both with transmission problems. Freddy Loix (Peugeot-Michelin) was the only other nominated driver to retire when his engine failed on Saturday afternoon.
FOUR WINNING COMBINATIONS… In temperatures ranging from +4°C to -5°C during the three-day Swedish Rally, and with ground conditions evolving from Friday's gravel/ice mix to more familiar wintry surfaces on Saturday and especially Sunday, four different Michelin tyre/stud combinations won at least one stage during 2004's visit to the Värmland. "The Michelin GE ice pattern recorded fastest times with both the long and short stud options, while Markko Märtin was fastest on the first icy run through the awesome 'Grandberget' stage with the brand new stud design developed especially for this year's Swedish Rally," says Michelin Competition's Rallies Manager, Aimé Chatard. "And when conditions turned snowy on Sunday, Janne Tuohino recorded a fastest time with the Michelin GA tyre."
THE OTHER LATIN STAR OF THE SNOW… Congratulations to Sébastien Loeb for becoming the first non-Nordic driver to win the Swedish Rally. But since 1979, another 'Latin' WRC star has also been winning in Sweden on a regular basis: Bibendum!
Loeb and Citroën's success effectively takes Michelin's score to 21 outright wins from the past 25 Swedish Rallies to be organised.
WINTER CHAMPIONS… Two weeks after their triumph in Monte Carlo, Sébastien Loeb, Citroën and Michelin were once again the stars in snowy Sweden, taking the driver-car-tyre combination to a grand slam in the two winter events of the 2004 World Rally Championship.
STAGE WINNERS… The winning performance of Michelin's tyre/stud package this weekend was once again underlined by the fact that, with the exception of Saturday evening's short spectator test, Michelin runners were fastest over every stage - and in every type of conditions - with three different teams and five different drivers:
Marcus Grönholm (8, Peugeot), Sébastien Loeb (4, Citroën), Carlos Sainz (3*, Citroën), Markko Märtin (2, Ford) and Janne Tuohino (2*, Ford).