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Seb’s fabulous five

by CAR magazine on 03/11/2008

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Sébastien Loeb emerged from this weekend’s penultimate round of WRC in Hokkaidō, Japan as the 2008 WRC Drivers’ Champion and the most successful driver world rallying has ever seen – with five consecutive championships since 2004.

Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena only finished in third place, but it was enough to clinch the title – while the BP-Ford driver duo of Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala recorded their third one-two finish of the season.

The writing would have been on the wall for BP-Ford where the Manufacturers’ Championship is concerned had it not been for its drivers keeping its hopes alive for the title with a strong performance in Japan and Loeb’s Citroen teammate Dani Sordo scoring no points. As it stands Citroen have 175 points, with Ford trailing by 11 at 164 points, so even if Hirvonen and Latvala notch up the maximum 18 – mathematically Citroen needs only seven to take the title a fourth time.

“It’s a fantastic feeling. Along with Daniel (Elena) and everyone in the team, the objective we set ourselves for this year was to win another world crown, and it’s tremendously satisfying to have met that target today. I really wanted to wrap up the title here in Japan to enable us to go into Wales Rally GB with a totally free mind. That made the weekend very long and very frustrating, and I have to say that it wasn’t much fun. I cannot say whether this year’s title is any finer than the others. One thing that has been the same each time is the thrill of being able to share our joy with everyone in the team. They have always given us a car with the potential to challenge for victory, and this is their title, too. That includes Dani Sordo and Marc Marti whose own results contributed to our success,” said the five-time champ at the finish.

It’s been a long year, but winning the title is such a great feeling. This is our fifth world crown together, and each one has given me tremendous pleasure. I’m not interested in the statistics, though; what counts the most is enjoying the stages, profiting from the terrific atmosphere within the team and working with Seb,” said Elena.

The Citroen team enjoyed a winning streak since WRC returned from the summer break at Rally Finland, so was imperative that BP-Ford pulled something out of the hat before the last round in Wales next month. It wasn’t easy, and the Focus’ of Hirvonen and Latvala pulled through snow, rain, slippery surfaces and broken road as the furious Finns established their lead early on during day one.

“I’m delighted with the win but at the same time disappointed that my hopes of the drivers’ title are over. We did all we could but it wasn’t enough to prevent Sebastien Loeb winning the title, which he richly deserves, and I congratulate him. Conditions were so changeable that it was a difficult and nerve-wrecking weekend and I never had the luxury of being able to ease off. I didn’t want to take risks in the wet weather today. I was aquaplaning many times and had several lucky escapes,” admitted Hirvonen.

“It feels fantastic to take a top three finish on gravel again,” said Latvala. “After a bad August this is my third strong rally and I really wanted this result. The conditions were probably the worst I’ve seen and I can’t explain how much water there was in the forests. We seemed to be aquaplaning all the time. The difficult rallies really suit the Focus RS WRC, which is incredibly strong. We’ve had no problems during the weekend and when you have to attack in the rough and tough conditions then it’s encouraging to know that the car excels on that type of road.”

Subaru and Suzuki pushed for top finishes, and came out with results too. Chris Atkinson finished fourth for Subaru, while Petter Solberg placed eighth – securing third position in the Manufacturers’ Championship. Suzuki duo Per-Gunnar Andersson and Toni Gardemeister took fifth and sixth respectively, the best finish by the team to date.

Matthew Wilson of Stobart M-Sport took seventh, while teammate Francois Duval crashed out – injuring co-driver Patrick Pivato, who was injured in the crash. Doctors report he is recovering well in intensive care after operations were needed to repair his pelvis and tibia and stop internal bleeding.

With the drivers’ title out of the way, Loeb will be a force to be reckoned with as he looks to cement the manufactures title for Citroen, while Hirvonen (with a definite second) will look to do the same for Ford. Sordo will have to watch his back as Latvala and Atkinson (who are tied) gun for his third place in the championship. All eyes now turn toward Cardiff in Wales, where the Manufacturers’ Championship and third to eighth in the Drivers Championship will be decided.