As the WRC heads into the second half of the season, there is a long, asphalt paved road ahead. 4 tarmac rallies means the race to Rally GB is Sebastien Loeb territory – the Frenchman winning every pure tarmac event since 2005. And to compound arch rivals Ford’s misery – Citroen has already won here despite the rally being new to the WRC – Bruno Thiry won the event in a Xsara as part of the European Rally Championship.
So surely with Loeb’s track record on the black stuff, we should just hand him the trophy now and save three days of boring Loeb domination?
“It would be a huge mistake to think like that!” retorts Loeb. “It's true that asphalt is our favourite hunting ground, but we have to tackle this rally in a humble state of mind.”
Sebastien Ogier may be Loeb’s closest title rival heading into the rally – but he has no plans to take on his vastly more expereinced countryman in a head to head battle.
“The second half of the season might not be so easy for us,” said Ogier. “The goal for this first asphalt rally will be to make progress and again get closer to the frontrunners, while hoping that we can challenge for a podium. Rally Bulgaria will be new for everyone so we are at less of a disadvantage even though we still lack experience.”
Meanwhile at the Ford camp, both drivers have been working flat out to get as much asphalt running as possible in preperation for the opening sealed surface event of the season – Mikko Hirvonen winning this year’s Rally Bulgaria and Jari-Matti Latvala competing in the Nurburgring 24 Hours.
“I’ve completed plenty of asphalt work recently, to shake off the rust after a long time without a WRC rally on that surface and to improve my technique,” explained Hirvonen. “Asphalt driving doesn’t come as easily to me as it does on gravel. I know what to do but I need to get into the frame of mind where I do it automatically, without having to think about it. I identified areas in which I needed to improve and I feel good about my driving now.”
Petter Solberg has a new co-driver for this event, and initial signs have been good, after the Norwegian went fastest in the shakedown on Thursday.
Further down the field there have been some driver line-up changes, with P-G Andersson stepping into the Stobart Ford team in place of Henning Solberg, who will be competing in a Fiesta S2000 this weekend.
With the SWRC, PWRC and JWRC all still on summer break, there is little action going on outside the top level cars, so all eyes will be on whether Loeb can take yet another win, or perhaps someone like Solberg can take a surprise win.