Sebastien Ogier wins rally France after a weekend long fight, while Loeb becomes a spectator due to Engine trouble.
This years rally de France has been a rally of drama. Being a tarmac rally, and based in the home town of Sebastien Loeb in Alsace, it was expected to be an easy victory for the Frenchman. But on day 1, just 3 Stages in, his Citroen DS3 came to a halt with low oil pressure, which damaged the engine beyond repair. The 7 times Champion and 2011 Championship leader, went from an expected 8th championship title to being a spectator for the remainder of the weekend.
This blew the championship wide open. disappointment for Hirvonen though, as after being given this golden opportunity for the title fight, he lacked pace in the Ford Fiesta, not helped by a small off in the morning of day 1. By the end of the day it was in fact a Mini that was leading in the form of Dani Sordo, after setting some great stage times and swapping places with Citroen’s Sebastien Ogier and Privateer Petter Solberg. Sordo led Solberg by just a second and showed that the New ‘kids on the block’ weren’t afraid to fight the big boys. “I’m really, really happy,” said the Spaniard. “We have been working so hard for this and now we’re in a good place. There are still two days [to go] but today has been really good. To be leading Citroen at home is very nice but it’s only one day at the moment. I try to be flat again tomorrow.” Ogier finished the day in 3rd just 2.8 seconds off the lead. The 2nd Mini belonging to Kris Meeke once again will have a DNF after crashing heavily when going to fast into a corner.
Day 2 began with sordo leading by one second in his MINI John Cooper Works WRC but was unable to fight off Ogier’s charge in afternoon as the factory Citroen DS3 WRC driver went fastest on four stages to open up an advantage of 9.5s. But was still showing great pace. also in the battle on day 2, was norwegian Petter Solberg. After being a little off pace in the past few rallies, he was really in the thick of it this weekend after making small changes in pre-event testing. This showed when he took the lead briefly on the 3rd stage of the morning, but bad luck struck again with a puncture on the following stage, dropping him down to 3rd some 51 seconds off the lead.
Jari-Matti Latvala set fastest stage time on stage 16 but overall wasn’t able to catch up with the battle at the top and completed day 2 as the leading Ford driver in fourth place but with fifth-placed team-mate Mikko Hirvonen desperate for points to boost his title chances, the Finns are expected to use team orders on the final day to give Hirvonen maximum points for the championship.
Day 3 and the battle at the front continued. Mini’s Dani Sordo had just 10 seconds to catch Ogier over the 40km’s that remained on the final day. In just 5.5km’s of the first stage, the Spaniard and his mini clawed back 3.1 seconds from ogier, and gain anther 1.5sec on the following stage and set the fastest time. On stage 20 both Ogier and Sordo set exactly the same time and the gap was down to a mear 4.9. Latvala was the man who was on it on day 3 of rally France, proving that despite the low results for the Fords, they still had the pace. the finn set fastest stages times on 18, 20 and 21. On the penultimate stage Ogier seemed more happy and set quickest time, beating Sordo and opening up the gap to 5.9, with just the short final Stage to go. Before the Final ‘Power stage’ begun. Ford, as expected, swapped their drivers around to give Mikko Hirvonen maximum points possible in his position for the championship, with Latvala taking a 2 minute penalty by checking in early to re-group.
Latvala was sent into the final Power stage by Ford, ‘Off the leash’ with hope that he would stop Citroen’s Sebastien Ogier from taking the full 3 bonus points. And it worked, as he set the quickest time. Dani Sordo was 2nd quickest, and Ogier was 3rd to take the final bonus point. But little did that matter to him as Sebastien Ogier in his Citroen DS3 took the victory on his home event. Making it his second tarmac victory of his career. Sordo brought the Mini to the finish in 2nd place, with a pleased Petter Solberg in 3rd.
Further down, Mikko Hirvonen took 4th place thanks to his team mate Jari Matti Latvala who dropped to 5th. In 6th place and doing a fantastic job this weekend in the FERM Power Tools Fiesta was Dennis Kuipers, showing that he can set good pace. Henning Solberg was the top Stobart driver and finished 7th, not too much drama for the Norwegian, although he was lucky to escape a freak accident with Kimi Raikkonen on the road section on Day 1 when warming up their tyres before the start of Stage 3 and crashed. His Team-mate Mads Ostberg finished 8th. American ‘Hooner’ Ken Block scored his first points this season, and the ‘quote of the rally’ by saying that “There’s been more Americans that have walked on the Moon than have got points in the WRC” After a close battle with Campana, he got to the end of the rally in 9th place, with campana rounding up the top 10.
There are now just 3 points separating the top 3 of Loeb, Ogier and Hirvonen for the 2011 championship fight, with just 2 events left, it will go down to the wire.