By Matt Beer Sunday, October 3rd 2010, 12:10 GMT
Sebastien Loeb clinched a record-extending seventh consecutive World Rally Championship title with another consummate victory – the 60th of his career and his sixth of the season – in his home rally in France.
Any result other than a Loeb win this weekend would have been the shock of the decade given his and Citroen’s unstoppable form on asphalt in recent years.
Sure enough, he established a 40-second lead in the first half of the rally and then eased his pace and drove carefully to protect his advantage and ensure a straightforward victory. The event’s new location meant he secured the title in his home town of Haguenau in front of a vast and ecstatic local crowd.
“For sure it makes it really special – it’s incredible for me to win the seventh title here in Haguenau,” said Loeb, whose win also clinched the manufacturers’ title for Citroen. “I couldn’t expect so many people here. To win the title here is the best thing that could happen this year.”
Dani Sordo made it a one-two for the factory Citroen team, ultimately by a comfortable margin – though he had been part of a close four-way battle for second earlier in the weekend.
Sebastien Ogier (Citroen Junior), the only man who could still mathematically deprive Loeb of the crown, broke his suspension and had to stop when third on Saturday afternoon, while small errors and delays dropped Petter Solberg (Solberg Citroen) and Jari-Matti Latvala (Ford) back in third and fourth. Nevertheless, a sixth podium of 2010 delighted Solberg, and Latvala made a real breakthrough with his asphalt speed this weekend, taking several stage wins.
Latvala’s Ford team-mate Mikko Hirvonen struggled throughout, though. Severely lacking in confidence in his car, he finished a distant fifth.
The top cars pulled so far away from the rest of the field that Ogier was able to take sixth via superally when he returned for leg three.
Munchi’s Ford’s Federico Villagra beat Matthew Wilson – the only Stobart WRC class entry this weekend – to seventh by 11s after a rally-long battle. Kimi Raikkonen (Citroen Junior) had held that position on day one, before two accidents on Saturday brought his rally to an end.
Hydraulic problems and some errors confined Ken Block to 12th place, but the Monster Ford driver did complete a full rally distance for the first time in his fledgling WRC career.
World Touring Car Championship leader Yvan Muller enjoyed his WRC outing in a Solberg-run Citroen Xsara, despite a fuel system issue forcing him to retire mid-way through leg one. He rejoined via superally and finished 43rd.
Although the unregistered Henning Solberg was the top S2000 car in ninth overall, the official SWRC class win went to Patrik Sandell after a thrilling contest with Eyvind Brynildsen, which finally ended when Brynildsen – who had thrown caution to the wind after a puncture dropped him to second – rolled this morning.
Thierry Neuville was dominating the Junior category until he hit a rock and picked up the first of two punctures. With the same happening to subsequent leader Hans Weijs Jr, it was wildcard entrant Jeremi Ancian who took a shock win.
There were no such surprises in the Production class, which Armindo Araujo controlled throughout.
This weekend marked the first time that the Rally of France had been held in the Alsace area rather than its traditional Corsican base. An enormous number of spectators turned out to see Loeb’s coronation, but various crowd issues meant much of the itinerary was delayed by between 30 minutes and an hour – although the only stage to be cancelled was the penultimate test today, which was sacrificed to ensure the final stage, televised live in France, went ahead on schedule.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen 3h05m49.3s
2. Dani Sordo Citroen + 35.7s
3. Petter Solberg Citroen + 1m16.8s
4. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 1m29.3s
5. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 3m43.8s
6. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 11m55.9s
7. Federico Villagra Ford + 14m15.4s
8. Matthew Wilson Ford + 14m26.9s
9. Henning Solberg Ford + 16m48.9s
10. Patrik Sandell Skoda + 17m12.3s