The final day of Rally Bulgaria was only ever going to produce one result – a Citroen monopoly.
Sebastien Loeb spearheaded the French marque’s domination all weekend – taking a clean sweep of stage wins on the opening day, but letting his team-mates race amongst themselves behind and just managing the time gap.
While Ford were pretty much cemented in a very disappointing 5th and 6th place – with the satellite team Stobart Fords 7th and 9th – the Citroens still had something to fight for during the last four stages of the event.
Dani Sordo and Petter Solberg were locked in an intense battle for second place, and the two would spend the day trading fastest stage times to try and finish as Loeb’s best right hand man.
After the changeable conditions that plagued some drivers yesterday, there were clear skies above so everyone had gone for hard tyres – except Jari-Matti Latvala, using the day as a test session as his 6th place was all but confirmed. Solberg was first to take the initiative, winning the opening stage and reeling in Sordo to only 3.6 seconds ahead, while Loeb sat back and took an easy 4th best time.
Solberg was fastest on stage 13, despite almost stalling at a hairpin near the finish. It did however cost him valuable time – he was only able to take a second out of Sordo, so would need to make up 5.5 seconds on the final stage of the event to snatch second place away.
It wasn’t to be however – while Sebastien Ogier won the final stage and secured 4th place, Sordo was able to pull out 1.3 seconds over Solberg – ensuring there would be a Citroen Total 1-2 finish.
It was a historic rally for the manufacturer – the last 1-2-3-4 finish for a single car make was way back in 1993, when Toyota dominated the Safari Rally.
“It's all gone off like a dream, really,” said Loeb. “We began with a good first day and we consolidated our position on the next one. Today was a bit more relaxed! I like the first Rally Bulgaria! It's got good stages that highlight the qualities of the drivers and the cars. Bravo to Dani who drove a great race.”
Meanwhile Kimi Raikkonen had been recovering from his day one retirement, and trying to chase down Henning Solberg for the final point. His efforts turned out to be in vain however, and had to settle for 11th in what looked to be his best rally of the season so far pace-wise.
“At least we tried!” he said at the finish. “Our feeling with the car was very good throughout the rally and that's extremely positive for what is only our first asphalt event. We keep on learning and I have the feeling that we're making progress now.”
Citroen had further success elsewhere as well, as Thierry Neuville cruised to victory in the JWRC class driving a C2 S1600. After two near misses so far this season, the young Belgian finally took his maiden victory – but wasn’t entirely happy on the final day, complaning about his poor-quality pace notes and ongoing brake problems.
“It's a fantastic result and I'm very, very happy,” said Neuville afterwards. “It's taken a long time to get our first victory. Each race so far we were in first position but we retired, one time mechanical and one time through me making a mistake. Now we are really happy to be at the finish because it was difficult to stay concentrated with such a big lead. It's good for me, the team and for my co-driver Nicolas Klinger because we came here for the victory and we pushed very hard.”
Hans Weijs Jr. stayed on track to secure 2nd place, and there was controversy for the final podium spot. Yeray Lemes looked certain to take the final podium place, but he was excluded for repairing his driveshaft at a time control checkpoint, so instead local driver Todor Slavov capitalised on others mistfortunes to take his first JWRC podium.
Kevin Abbring restarted 7th today after suffering a broken alternator, and try as he may he couldn’t catch the string of drivers from fourth to sixth – Alessandro Broccoli, Karl Kruda and Egoi Valdes Lopez were all out of reach for the Dutchman. He said afterwards he was never going to win anyway – the charachteristics of his Renault Clio R3 compared to the standard S1600 machines didn’t suit the fast, sweeping Bulgarian stages.
Early leader Mathieu Arzeno was the last finisher, way behind Abbring – four points was scant reward for his first JWRC finish.
Rally Bulgaria Results
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