FIA World Rally ChampionshipOff Road

Loeb Ends WRC Era In Familiar Style In Wales

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Sebasiten Loeb scored the 36th and final victory for the Citroen C4 on Wales Rally GB, the last event for the current specification of World Rally Cars.

The Frenchman had been part of an epic battle with Petter Solberg, ever since Jari-Matti Latvala lost the rally lead late on Friday with a puncture. The pair swapped the lead throughout Saturday, though it was Loeb who led coming into Sunday, with an advantage of just 4.8 seconds over the Norwegian. Solberg was chasing his fifth Wales Rally GB victory, and his first win anywhere as a privateer entry.

Loeb was nearly seven seconds faster than Solberg on Sunday's opening stage – SS17 Resolfen, and then won SS18 Margam Park to extend his lead to 14.3 seconds by midday service. This lead became 19.1 seconds during the two afternoon repeat stages as Loeb took a third consecutive Rally GB win, his eighth victory of 2010 and 62nd win of his career.

“We had to fight from beginning to end against the road conditions and our rivals,” said Loeb. “It's true that Petter beat me in Margam Park in 2003 and pipped me for the world title, but I wasn't out for revenge. I knew I had to watch out as he's very quick here. It was a great rally and we really enjoyed ourselves in the C4 WRC. As in Spain we could push and take risks without having to worry about the pressure of winning the championship. I was determined to finish the season on a high note to thank the whole team and give the C4 WRC a final victory,”

Despite missing out on the victory, Solberg was delighted to have finished on the podium in the overall standings. “This is so great,” he said. “We started the season with third in the championship as our goal, and to be able to fulfill that dream today is just unbelievable. And it is a great payback for all the hard work that my team has done this year. I really thought I should be able to catch up with Loeb today, but unfortunately it was not possible for me to beat him and his works-car. I would also like to send a big thank you to all my sponsors, team and Phil Mills. Phil, you did half the season and are a big part of this!

Latvala sealed the runners-up spot in the standings when he took third place from BP Ford teammate Mikko Hirvonen by winning the penultimate stage. Sebastien Ogier dropped from second to fourth in the standings when he crashed out of third place on Saturday's opening stage.

“This is a really big day for me and it feels fantastic,” said Latvala. “My target at the start of the season was to finish in the top three in the championship, so second is amazing. I won two rallies this year and I never imagined that would happen as I was the second driver in the team. I had a self-inflicted puncture on Friday and that cost me the rally win, but that was my mistake. I was quite depressed after that, but the whole team encouraged me. I had doubts, but they didn’t. Miikka and I worked so hard this year but I also want to thank Mikko for helping and encouraging me. The car showed its strength this weekend, so I must also thank my Focus too!”

“I had good, consistent speed both yesterday and today and that boosted my confidence,” said Hirvonen. “I’ve experienced the best moments of my career in the Focus RS WRC and I must admit that I felt emotional at the end of the last stage today, knowing that I won’t drive the car again. Having said that, I can’t wait to get my hands on the new Ford Fiesta RS WRC next year. This was a tough season and now I’m ready to work hard to try to get into the title fight again in 2011. Next year will be exciting with the new cars, and I can’t wait.”

Dani Sordo finished in fifth, winning the final stage, in what looks set to be his last for Citroen. He said: “Myself and Diego said to ourselves that we would push hard on the last stage to set the final fastest time of the season and that's exactly how it worked out! It was a really difficult rally The roads were very slippery with several changes in the levels of grip. I tried to keep up with the frontrunners but I lost a bit of time on the opening day. Afterwards I aimed to close the gap a bit but I always ended up fifth at the end of every stage.”

“I wanted to do a bit better in order to finish the year on a real high, but it was hard to take any more risks on roads that were as slippery as these ones,” added Dani. “There were so many traps that you could fall into everywhere.”

Sordo finished several minutes ahead of the Stobart Fords of Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson. Henning said: “The car has been running perfectly but it was a huge disadvantage to be running further down the field in Wales as the stages were so muddy. We went flat out for most of the rally but I just really don't enjoy the types of conditions we experienced this weekend.  We did all that we could but it was very difficult.

Wilson added: “The stages were so slippery this weekend and we had a lot of understeer especially on the first day. The pace of the top five drivers was very fast and it was difficult to try and match those times in such treacherous conditions.”

Kimi Raikkonen had a solid run to eighth, bringing his debut WRC season to a close, tenth in the final standings. “We were expecting this to be a tricky season,” he said. “I made some mistakes but I also learned a lot this year and I had fun driving the Citroën C4 WRC. I would like to carry on. This is my preferred option for 2011.”

Mads Ostberg finished ninth, the Norwegian scoring the final WRC points for the Subaru Impreza WRC. Compatriot Andreas Mikkelsen scored the final point in tenth, also winning the SWRC category. Another SWRC non-regular Craig Breen finished second in class and 12th overall, while Xavi Pons finished third in class and 13th overall to win the inaugural SWRC title.

In PWRC, Armindo Araujo won a second consecutive title after finishing second in class and 18th overall , one place behind class winner Ott Tanak. 

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Peter joined the TCF team in September 2010 and covers GP2 and GP3 along with WTCC and Formula Two. You can find him on twitter at @PeteAllen_
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