Jari-Matti Latvala scored his first and only win of the 2011 World Rally Championship on Wales Rally GB after newly-crowned champion Sebastien Loeb's rally came to an abrupt end when he was involved in a collision with a car on a road section on Sunday morning.
Loeb sealed an eighth straight world title when rival Mikko Hirvonen was forced into retirement on Friday after damaging the radiator, and subsequently the engine, on his Ford when he spun.
Loeb held a narrow lead over Latvala on Friday night, before pulling out a gap again on Saturday morning's stages. The Finn fought back in the afternoon though to open up a six second lead overnight.
Loeb's bid for victory came undone though on the road section between the Halfway and Crychan tests on Sunday morning when his Citroen collided with a road car. He, co-driver Daniel Elena and the two Spanish occupants of the hire car all escaped unharmed. The impact was not heavy, but – perhaps ironically given the nature of Hirvonen's exit – the radiator was damaged and he could not continue.
“We were on a road section and hit a car front on,” said Loeb to wrc.com. “I moved to the side [of the road] but we are in [Wales] and he is not [Welsh] so he went on the wrong side and we crashed. It was not a big impact but the radiator is holed, so we cannot go on. That's it. But okay, we are world champion so no problems.”
This left Latvala with a comfortable winning margin, which stood at 3m42.9s after completing the 23rd and final stage on Sunday.
Mads Ostberg matched his career best result of second from the season opener in Sweden, on what is widely expected to have been the final appearance for his Stobart team in the WRC. Teammate and fellow Norwegian Henning Solberg completed a fine double podium finish for the squad, albeit seven minutes behind Latvala on a rally of attrition.
Solberg's podium had looked under serious threat from Kris Meeke, the Brit having closed from 45 seconds behind at the start of the final day to just 1.8s with one stage remaining. However, the Northern Irishman spun on the very last test, preventing a podium finish on home soil for him and the Banbury-based Mini team.
Meeke was still able to finish well clear of the next best Brit – fifth placed Matthew Wilson. The top ten was made up of eight Ford Fiesta RS WRCs at the finish, with Ott Tanak next up in sixth on both his and tyre manufacturer DMACK's first World Rally Car appearance.
The Estonian was closely followed by fellow Ford pilots Evgeny Novikov and Dennis Kuipers, with Ken Block picking up two points in ninth. The final point of the year was collected by Armindo Araujo in his Motorsport Italia-run Mini.
Sebastien Ogier won the season-ending Power Stage to take 11th overall after running most of the event under superally after crashing on SS1 on Thursday afternoon. He demoted the impressive Kevin Abbring, who was top non-WRC runner in his Volkswagen-entered Skoda Fabia S2000. Production champion Hayden Paddon was 13th on his debut in the R4-specificaiton Subaru, with Patrick Flodin comfortably winning the PWRC section on the rally in 14th.
The next World Rally Championship event will be the return of the Monte Carlo Rally in January 2012.
Final 2011 Wales Rally GB top ten positions after SS23:
|1.||Jari-Matti Latvala||Ford Abu Dhabi||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||3:27:03.5|
|2.||Mads Ostberg||M-Sport Stobart||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+3:42.9|
|3.||Henning Solberg||M-Sport Stobart||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+7:05.1|
|4.||Kris Meeke||Mini||Mini John Cooper Works WRC||+7:12.3|
|5.||Matthew Wilson||M-Sport Stobart||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+8:57.3|
|6.||Ott Tanak||M-Sport Stobart||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+9:27.1|
|7.||Evgeny Novikov||Abu Dhabi||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+9:47.7|
|8.||Dennis Kuipers||Ferm||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+10:12.7|
|9.||Ken Block||Monster||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+16:01.2|
|10.||Armindo Araujo||Motorsport Italia||Mini John Cooper Works WRC||+3:42.9|
Final 2011 World Rally Championship drivers' classification top ten positions after 13 rounds:
|1.||Sebastien Loeb||Citroen Total||Citroen DS3 WRC||222|
|2.||Mikko Hirvonen||Ford Abu Dhabi||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||214|
|3.||Sebastien Ogier||Citroen Total||Citroen DS3 WRC||196|
|4.||Jari-Matti Latvala||Ford Abu Dhabi||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||172|
|5.||Petter Solberg||PSWRT||Citroen DS3 WRC||110|
|6.||Mads Ostberg||M-Sport Stobart||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||88|
|7.||Matthew Wilson||M-Sport Stobart||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||63|
|8.||Dani Sordo||Mini||Mini John Cooper Works WRC||59|
|9.||Henning Solberg||M-Sport Stobart||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||59|
|10.||Kimi Raikkonen||Ice 1||Citroen DS3 WRC||34|