Sebastien Loeb took victory in the final round of the 2009 World Rally Championship, and subsequently took his sixth Driver’s Title in a row, beating Mikko Hirvonen.
At the beginning of the day, Loeb looked to be cruising to the win, only loosing a couple of seconds in the opening stage. However, a turbo problem lost him over 10 seconds to Hirvonen in the first run through Rheola, and meant Hirvonen was still in with a shout of taking a last gasp victory.
However, it was not to be for the Finn, as coming over a jump on the penultimate stage, his bonnet clips gave way, slamming the bonnet into the windscreen and blinding him. He pulled over to fix the problem, dropping over a minute as a consequence, and was left fighting Loeb’s team-mate Dani Sordo for second, with less than a second advantage going into the final stage.
Thus Loeb cruised to the finish of SS16 to become World Champion, with Hirvonen winning the stage and retaining second place, scant consolation for yet another year as the runner-up.
“It’s been an incredible season,” said a delighted Loeb. “We made a good start then we lost everything and we came here one point behind Mikko. Finally we’ve done it and I’m really happy but Mikko has been extremely strong. I know it will be tough next year for sure.
“This has been one of my best title wins; the battle was so intense – going almost until the end of the last rally. It was incredible. We have had some highs and some lows this year but we finished with the victory. It's an incredible feeling!”
A disconsolate Hirvonen was not happy with how he had performed in the rally as a whole, blaming his own pace in part for losing the title.
“The bonnet pin was the last of our problems,” he said. “I’m frustrated to lose by so little. After the first two stages this morning I thought I could do it, but the time I lost yesterday morning cost me in the end. I scored 11 podiums in 12 rounds, but I needed more wins. My challenge is to beat Loeb before he retires. I’ve learned a lot this year and I will come back stronger and better next year.”
Sordo almost had a scare of his own, after a minor off on Stage 14 almost took a wheel off his Citroen C4.
“We swiped a big rock with the right rear, but the car wasn’t too badly damaged,” Sordo said. “But this has been a great day and a great championship, I’m really happy.”
Petter Solberg came home in 4th place, after battling with Sordo for the whole rally. A problem with his windscreen wipers on Saturday cost him too much time to make up by the end despite his best efforts.
“It's been a long journey to get here, but I’m very pleased with this result,” he said. “The car was good – but I should have done a little more testing in the mud. But my improvement through the rally has been good and the whole year, actually, has been fantastic.”
It wasn’t just flying bonnets that caused chaos on Stage 15. It turned out to be a nightmare stage for the Citroen Junior Team too. Cars ahead had swept rocks onto the stage surface and damaged Sebastien Ogier‘s car badly, who had looked set for 5th place.
It was a double whammy for the Citroen Juniors though, as debutant Aaron Burkart crashed while trying to pass the stricken Ogier. He looked on course for a solid Top 10 finish but dropped to 14th as a result. He eventually finished in 13th, but only after Ogier had been forced to retire.
Most drivers were complaining about rocks being in the way on that stage, but something rather larger got in Nasser Al-Attiyah‘s way. He hit a deer on the stage, and was forced to retire yet again after returning under SupeRally rules on Saturday.
Despite the madness of Stage 15 the Stobart drivers of Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson kept their noses clean to inherit 5th and 6th place respectively come the end of the day.
In 7th place, and having a miserable weekend, was the other works Ford of Jari-Matti Latvala. A broken driveshaft had plummeted him down the order on the first day, and a crash at the end of Stage 14 broke his suspension, meaning he had to limp to the end of the rally. But even that wasn’t enough for Conrad Ranutenbach to catch the ailing Finn, who couldn’t make up enough time and ended up taking the final point in 8th place.
“It was a character-building weekend,” admitted Latvala. “I had some technical issues and made a mistake today. At a little jump right at the finish I ended up off the road. Thankfully the British fans are as good as the Finns and they got us back on the road quickly. My driving wasn’t as good as I hoped here. I came here hoping to fight for victory but it wasn’t to be.”
The PWRC saw a dominant first win for Eyvind Brynildsen, who had led from the word go on Friday.
Or at least we thought he had.
Post-rally Scrutineering showed his Skoda Fabia S2000 was running illegal brakes, which did not fit homologation for the car. They had the correct homologation number, but had smaller pistons than specified in the car’s homologation.
Brynildsen’s engineer Yannick Willocx was called to the stewards office to explain why the car did not conform to regulations. He explained that the brakes were supplied to them by Skoda and it was a fault on their part, which was backed up by showing the spares which had been supplied also had the same fault.
The stewards accepted this explanation and accepted there was no intention to cheat, however Brynildsen was still excluded from the results as per the rules.
This meant JWRC champion Martin Prokop inherited the PWRC class win, although this year’s PWRC champion Armindo Araujo lead on the road, inheriting 9th place overall after Brynildsen’s disqualification.
“I lost my motivation a little during after Rally Argentina, but everything has come good at the end of the year,” said Prokop. “It's really nice to add vice P-WRC champion to our J-WRC title. It's been a great season”
This promoted Toshi Arai to 2nd in the PWRC class in his Subaru Impreza, and Martin Semerad rounded out the revised podium in his final outing as a Pirelli Star Driver.
Bernardo Sousa came home 4th after a dissapointing season overall in his unreliable Abarth Punto S2000, and another Pirelli Star Driver, Mark Tapper, finished in 5th place. Patrik Flodin recovered to 6th thanks to the SupeRally rules, as did Patrik Sandell in 7th place. Hermann Gassner Junior took the final point in 8th place.
1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT 3hours 16mins 25.4secs
2. Mikko Hirvonen BP Ford Abu Dhabi +01mins 06.1secs
3. Dani Sordo Citroen Total WRT +01mins 07.1secs
4. Petter Solberg Citroen Junior Team +01mins 28.1secs
5. Henning Solberg Stobart VK Ford +06mins 28.0secs
6. Matthew Wilson Stobart VK Ford +07mins 46.0secs
7. Jari-Matti Latvala BP Ford Abu Dhabi +12mins 11.9secs
8. Conrad Rautenbach Citroen Junior Team +14mins 27.8secs
9. Armindo Araujo Mitsubishi Lancer Evo +24mins 18.8secs
10. Martin Prokop Mitsubishi Lancer Evo +24mins 31.6secs
1. Martin Prokop Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 3hours 40mins 57.0secs
2. Toshi Arai Subaru Impreza N14 +01mins 39.0secs
3. Martin Semerad Mitsubishi Lancer Evo +02mins 43.3secs
4. Bernardo Sousa Fiat Abarth Grande Punto S2000 +03mins 08.0secs
5. Mark Tapper Mitsubishi Lancer Evo +04mins 13.4secs