Sebastien Loeb and the Citroën World Rally Team further established their hold on the current WRC season with a maximum points haul at the sixth round, the Acropolis Rally in Greece, by tradition one of the toughest events of the year.
Citroën might have come away with all the spoils, but it didn’t come without a significant fight from championship contender Ford, whose drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and former world champion Petter Solberg didn’t give the Citroën team a moment’s rest this weekend. Loeb was under pressure thanks to the boys from the Blue Oval, but their performances were plagued by costly mistakes that saw them drop out of contention for a win.
“This rally was so long and difficult. We had some fortune in the morning, but in general we had to fight really hard. It was really good. I tried to always keep my rhythm and do what I felt. I tried to manage the car and the tires,” Loeb said afterward.
The Frenchman’s fortune was the unfortunate crash of Petter Solberg, who dogged Loeb for much of the weekend, but in the end the Norwegian’s efforts were in vain when an error during the first stage of the final day saw him retire from the event. "The plan was to push and try to take two or three seconds back on the first stage. I wanted to put pressure on Loeb. After the opening 10 km we were equal on time so I decided to push a bit harder. Until the accident my driving was perfect with no mistakes. It’s disappointing but I must look ahead to the next rally and stay positive,” said Solberg.
Loeb’s caution was key to his two-minute lead over team-mate Mikko Hirvonen, which came in handy when he had to stop to attend to a puncture. After Solberg’s exit and Latvala’s difficulties, the door was left wide open for Hirvonen to scoop second overall with his consistent pace. “We had no mechanical problems on either car; that is a truly exceptional achievement on a rally like this one,” the Finn admitted.
It was a bittersweet third place for Latvala, who hadn’t seen the podium since his win in Sweden, the championship’s second round. “I need to be satisfied in one sense because I said before the rally that I wanted to finish on the podium and I did that. Of course, at the same time I’m disappointed because I could have won."
After the Ford team’s modest results this weekend, it’s Mads Ostberg who on paper is closest to the Citroën drivers. Fourth in Greece and consistent points finishes throughout the season so far means the young Norwegian is just nine points shy of Mikko Hirvonen in the driver’s championship.
The next round of the WRC circus returns to the Southern Hemisphere for Rally New Zealand – one of the most beautiful events of the season with epic landscapes and a real speed test. Rally New Zealand starts on 22 June.
Driver’s Championship standings
1. Sebastien Loeb: 119 points
2. Mikko Hirvonen: 89
3. Mads Ostberg: 80
4. Petter Solberg: 73
5. Jari-Matti Latvala: 45
6. Evgeny Novikov: 43
7. Martin Prokop: 36
8. Nasser Al-Attiyah: 23
Manufacturer’s championship standings
1. Citroën Total World Rally Team: 184 points
2. Ford World Rally Team: 121
3. M-Sport Ford World Rally Team: 91
4. Citroën Junior World Rally Team: 42
5. Qatar World Rally Team: 37
6. Adapta World Rally Team: 27
7. Mini WRC Team: 26
8. Brazil World Rally Team: 10