Spain hosts the penultimate round of the World Rally Championship, and SÃ©bastien Loeb will be looking to end his streak of bad luck with a win on a rally which should suit him well.
Catalunya’s fast tarmac roads are expected to produce a win for the five-time World Champion, but also a 1-2 for CitroÃ«n with native Dani Sordo. The pair have locked out the front two positions here since 2006, and Loeb is relying on this trend continuing to stay in the hunt for the title.
“I’ve really little alternative than to end the season with a perfect scorecard,” he explained. “Here, more than anywhere else, we will be counting on Dani and Marc [Marti, Dani’s co-driver]’s rearguard action, because Mikko only needs to come second twice to clinch the title. I will do all I can to fulfil my side of the contract. After that, we shall see.”
Mikko Hirvonen has seemingly already admitted defeat, and expects Loeb to win the event regardless of his efforts.
“I’m not going to try to win this event,” he said. “Having said that, if anybody is going to beat Sebastien, it’s going to be me – I can’t see any of the other Citroens beating him! I am aiming for second place here. Having said that, Dani [Sordo] is going to be really hard to beat here, he’s finished second for the last three years.”
But the man who could decide who will lead the title race going to Britian is Petter Solberg, driving for the CitroÃ«n Junior Team. If he can take the final podium place, as he is hoping to do, and forcing Hirvonen down to 4th, it would give Loeb a 1 point lead.
“A podium is where I would like to be,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to beat Sebastien and Dani. It will also be interesting to see what the Fords are looking like now [after their recent test]. This will be interesting for me next year.”
The JWRC comes to a close this weekend, and with Martin Prokop already champion, Suzuki team-mates Aaron Burkart and Michal Kosciuszko have been left to fight over second place. But of course, there is a catch to it. Kosciuszko has already completed his 6 allocated rounds of the season, so Simone Bertolotti will take his place. Burkart therefore must finish in second place in the rally to seal second place in the championship.
But it’s easier said than done, and with Prokop present at the event, along with more talented youngsters like Yoann Bonato and Kevin Abbring also competeing, it could be a fight to the finish for Burkart.
Loeb showed his clear intentions of victory, setting the fastest time through today’s Shakedown stage. Worryingly for Ford, the CitroÃ«ns of Sebastien Ogier, Sordo and Solberg were all quicker than 5th placed Hirvonen and his team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala one place behind. But of course, there are still another three days of action ahead, and considering the way the season has been thus far, the title race could easily be turned on its head.