The WRC has been going through its fair share of trials and tribulations of late, both on and off the stages – yet either way Sebastien Loeb and his Citroen Total team are still able to dominate arch rivals Ford on a weekly basis.
The sport has been on the brink of a full-on Civil War because of the recent tactics dÃ©bÃ¢cle, as neither the French nor British camps refuse to back down with their game of chess, even though neither side apparently wants to play.
As a result the Turkish rally officials had told everyone before the rally started to avoid playing silly games or face the consequences. And surprisingly all the drivers obeyed. The irony when someone did get busted for playing games, it was an inside job.
Eventual victor Loeb had a low-key first day thanks to the much loathed road-sweeping duties from running first on the road. However compatriot and Citroen team-mate Sebasiten Ogier made the most of a lower starting position to edge ahead of the second works car of Dani Sordo throughout the first day.
All of the front-runners were taking it relatively easy to avoid running first the next day, and without facing the wrath of the stewards with yet more tactics. Mikko Hirvonen was able to cruise along in 3rd all day, but with Citroen duo Petter Solberg and Loeb on his tail, and Ford team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala bringing up the rear for the works entries.
However the Ford entourage was a mess after the first stage of the rally – the trio of Matthew Wilson, Henning Solberg and Ken Block had incidents in the same section of SS1, with the latter duo retiring on the spot with thoroughly smashed up Focuses needing repaired for SupeRally the following day.
There were no real surprises in the JWRC during Day 1, with Aaron Burkart holding a 7.5s lead over series newcomer Thierry Neuville. It didn’t start that way however, as Kevin Abbring lead after the first two morning stages. Dying rear brakes on Stage 3 started to hinder the Dutchman’s Clio R3, and with another stage to go before midday service, time loss was inevitable. He dropped down to 3rd but was still in the hunt for victory nonetheless.
The second day was not such a calm affair however, as the drivers hit out at the rally organisers for altering the stages post-recce.
Latvala rolling on the opening stage and dropping way down to 16th paled into insignificance after SS13, which Loeb described as “a s*** stage, really, really bad.”
He further explained his grievances about the previous pair of stages; “For sure there were changes. I started [SS12] and went through the first right, then 80 metres after that I had a left in fourth gear, but there was no left corner – it was straight, flat out. I had a ‘cut’ in my notes to cut the corner, which I did in fifth or sixth gear and on the exit of the corner was one of these banks. Bang! The car went up in the air and we damaged the sumpguard.”
“If the organisers are saying there are no changes to the roads [which they did] then they are lying and this is stupid,” exclaimed a rather aggrivated Hirvonen. “They have been scraping the road. And when they have done that they are making banks at the side of the road. My notes were way too fast for the road as it was today. So many places we should have cut the corner and we had to drive around – there were a hell of a lot of changes. After that, I didn’t trust my notes at all.”
He continued; “The teams said if you are going there, then go and pick up the rocks. The organisers said they would just go and pick them up, but they have definitely done a hell of a lot more than that. They changed the stage and told nobody.”
Petter Solberg benefited from all the chaos to leapfrog to 2nd overall at service, though he was re-passed by Loeb not long into the afternoon loop.
Ogier had been going about his business with minimum fuss all weekend – edging slightly further ahead as each staged passed despite being Day 2’s roadsweeper. The steady progress came to a grinding halt on Stage 15 however, as a puncture ended any hopes of a maiden victory and dropping him to 5th. Loeb was promoted to the lead, and 16 seconds down the road were Solberg and Hirvonen, with only tenths of a second seperating the two.
Meanwhile back in the JWRC, Burkart’s only rivals for victory fell by the wayside on Day 2, Neuville suffering a broken diff and Abbring with both an electrical fault an a puncture. Burkart took a four minute lead into the final day over Alessandro Broccoli which only marginally shrunk by the rally’s end, with Abbring soldiering on to round out the podium.
Solberg and Hirvonen were given much less time to catch Loeb than they wanted after the day’s opening two stages were cancelled, after overnight rain turned the stages into mudbaths.
SS20 was going to be the crucial stage for the chasing pack – if Loeb could cope well enough with the conditions here, there would be no opportunity to catch him. And cope he did, winning the stage by 0.3 seconds to Solberg, essentially securing victory there and then.
Hirvonen on the other hand had a miserable run, a self-inflicted puncture dropping him behind Sordo, who had been almost unnoticeable all weekend. He retired a stage later in similar fashion, simply pulling over in the middle of SS21 with an unidentified failure to his C4. Hirvonen’s blushes had been spared. Meanwhile Solberg went uber-conservative which gave Loeb a lead of almost half a minute going into the last stage.
As cool as ever, Loeb drove faultlessly to victory as Solberg crawled to second place, with the winning margin widening to almost a minute by the fiinish. Hirvonen hung onto the final podium spot as the Citroen Junior cars of Ogier and Kimi Raikkonen rounded out the Top 5. The Ford second string was miles behind, with Federico Villagra, Wilson and Latvala rounding out what had been a dismal three weeks for the Blue Oval.
Loeb was somewhat relieved his victory came without the added controversy of team tactics, though the overnight downpours eased his worries going into the final day of stages.
“We decided to stay first on the road and it was a good choice,” said Loeb. “We maybe expected rain, and I knew if I lifted off and it rained, I was finished. I knew if it didn’t rain, maybe I could keep my lead.”
Hirvonen however was slightly dissapointed to have only managed to retain third by the end of the rally, but acknowledged it was a reasonable result.
“I started this morning hoping we could fight for second or even the win,” Hirvonen said. “We gave it everything, it went wrong and I lost my position, but now we’re here again, so it’s okay.”
“But Sebastien is getting away again in the championship. I have to push harder in the next one.”
Rally Turkey Results
1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT 3hours 01mins 38.7secs
2. Petter Solberg Petter Solberg WRT +00mins 54.5secs
3. Mikko Hirvonen BP Ford Abu Dhabi +01mins 43.4secs
4. Sebastien Ogier Citroen Junior Team +03mins 46.0secs
5. Kimi Raikkonen Citroen Junior Team +06mins 44.3secs
6. Federico Villagra Munchi’s Ford +07mins 56.7secs
7. Matthew Wilson Stobart VK Ford +08mins 29.8secs
8. Jari-Matti Latvala BP Ford Abu Dhabi +19mins 44.2secs
9. Dennis Kuipers Ford Fiesta S2000 +23mins 22.2secs
10. Aaron Burkart Suzuki Swift S1600 +27mins 04.7secs
1. Aaron Burkart Suzuki Swift S1600 3hours 28mins 43.4secs
2. Alessandro Broccoli Renault Clio R3 +03mins 53.7secs
3. Kevin Abbring Renault Clio R3 +09mins 43.7secs