The World Rally Championships has its own ‘Driving God’ by the name of Sebastien Loeb. The 8 times Champion has not only broken more records in the sport than anyone, but after 11 years in the WRC, the Frenchman is still breaking them. This weekend he became the first none Scandinavian to win Rally Finland, Formerly known as ‘Rally of a thousand lakes’ for the 3rd time.
The Citroen driver led the event from start to Finish. He battled a little with his team mate throughout the weekend, but overall, no one could really match the pace of the Frenchman.
After the first 3 stages of Day 1, which commenced on Thursday Evening, Loeb already had a lead of 7.3 seconds. And on the first stage of Friday morning he was fastest again. On the following stage SS5, it was his team mate and finnish driver Mikko Hirvonen who went fastest to close the gap. Mikko Pushing hard and determined to close the gap up on the leader on his home event.
There was drama further a field. Russia driver Evgeny Novikov ran wide on a fast right, carrying a little to much speed and rolled off into the finnish forest. But unbelievably he managed to get his Fiesta back on its wheels and continued on, Although his Ford looked more like something out of ‘MadMax’ than the WRC he managed to get his car back to service. And the very talented M-Sport Mechanics managed to replace most of the body work and some engine and suspension parts and got the car looking and driving like new in just 36 minutes. In SWRC New Zealand driver Hayden Paddon’s Rally came to an end with mechanical problems when his engine which would only run on 2 cylinders. The Kiwi was 2nd and just a few seconds away from SWRC leader Lappi.
Back at the top, on SS6 Hirvonen continued to close the gap on the leader, and was now just 3.8 seconds away from Master Loeb. From here on, Loeb and Hirvo swapped fastest times for the next 4 stages with just a few tenths between them. Down in 3rd and 4th, Ford seemed to be struggling. 3rd place Jari Matti Latvala couldn’t get the right feeling or set-up. But finally on SS8 Latvala found a comfortable set-up and pace with the car, only a tenth off Hirvo’s fastest stage time. It seemed the pace was finally coming to him. “Finally, the 1st time in this Rally. At least we are not losing any more.” Said the Finn.
More drama on SS8, This time for Chris Atkinson, who was standing in for Nasser Al-Attiyah who missed this event as he was competing in the Olympics. Atko missed heard a note and went left instead of right, and went off in to that finnish forest. although lucky he didn’t get a heavy impact, his suspension was damaged and had to retire for the day, The aussie was in 8th before his off.
It was on the last proper stage of the day when someone finally intervened with Loeb And Hirvo’s Fastest stage times battle. On SS11 Lankamaa, Ford Driver Petter Solberg not only set the fastest time, but also set a new stage record of 11:03.2. Although it was only 0.1 faster than Hirvonen, It meant that Solberg now held two Stage Records, the most important one being the Record on the Ouninphoja when it was last run a few years ago. To end the day’s action, it was a quick blast around the returning 2km Super Special Stage of Killeri. which Loeb of course won. By the end of Day 2 Loeb had a lead of 5 seconds over his Team Mate Hirvonen. Latvala was the closest Ford in 3rd 20.3 off the lead with team mate Solberg in 4th.
Saturday, Day 3 the final day of the Rally had 6 stages. The first was Surkee, and the Chasing Hirvonen made a mistake and lost 3.9 seconds to Loeb by hitting a rock with the rear left of his Citroen DS3. At Stage end the Fin said, “I went wide into a rock early in the stage and did the whole stage with an empty tyre”. This meant that Loeb’s lead now increased to nearly 9 seconds overall. Petter Solberg really struggled and came through 11 seconds slower than his team mate latvala who was 2nd fastest, due to bad set-up. on the following stage, Mikko tried to make up for his lost time and managed to claw back 1.5 seconds on the leader. There were a few moments down the leader board. Finland being famous for its high speed and high jumps. 5th place Mads Ostberg had a “Big moment” in this stage, going a little to fast and wild over a big jump. Ken Block also having a moment over a jump, but then crashed out not long after, and ended the rally with a broken suspension arm.
The crews headed back to service where they would then repeat the mornings 2 stages. It was also where Citroen boss confirmed that the two Citroen Drivers Loeb and Hirvonen were “free to fight”. So back out they went and fight they did. Loeb showed Hirvo who’s boss, On the 2nd run of Surkee he was 1.5 fastest than his team mate, and then a further 0.1 faster on the following stage. Latvala was finally on the pace enough to get between the two Citroen drivers. But despite the Ford driver pushing hard and setting equal time to Loeb on SS16, he just couldn’t find that little bit extra to beat the Citroen’s on overall pace.
After another trip to the service park to get the cars and drivers back into shape after a long tough Rally. There was just 2 runs through one final stage that stood between them and the finish line. But it wasnt just any stage. It was 33km’s of a tree lined gravel Roller coaster. Ultra fast, narrow, big blind crest’s and jumps and hundreds of corners. It was not just a test of driver and machine. But also of the Co-Drivers notes and their mouths being able to bark them out fastest enough. Just two runs through the infamous ‘Ouninpohja’. As was mentioned earlier, Fords Petter Solberg held the Stage record from the last running of the stage nearly 6 years ago. could anyone beat his time of 15minutes and 18seconds? The answer would come on the final run, as the first run was taken a little stead by most. notes were adjusted and Loebs lead was cut down by Hirvonen. With just the Power stage now left, Hirvonen had only 33km’s of the final run through Ouninpohja 2 left, to make up 7.2 seconds on Loeb.
The Power stage begun, and Solberg’s stage record had been smashed by the new generation of WRC cars. bonus points were up for grabs for the fastest 3 times. And 3rd fastest through the stage was Sebastien Loeb. Although he missed out on beating Solberg’s record time he claimed 1 bonus point. 2nd fastest was Petter Solberg. Half a seconds quicker than Loeb and beating his old stage time. But The man who now has the record stage time, and the 3 bonus points from the power stage was Mikko Hirvonen. Finishing the final stage with a time of 15:17.3. which was 1.1 seconds faster than Loeb. The Fin ended the Rally failing to beat the 8 times champion, but gave it a good go.
By the end of the Rally, Sebastien Loeb took his 3rd Rally Finland win by 6.1 seconds. and his 73rd career win. Mikko’s 2nd place meant that it was Citroen’s 4th 1-2 finish in a row, and their 5th 1-2 of the season.
Loeb:”For sure it’s very satisfying to win in Finland. I didn’t come here especially to win, I came for points because it’s very difficult to beat the Finnish drivers. It was a great fight with Mikko, a one-two for Citroen and great for the championship.” Loeb now leads the Drivers standings by 43 points.
Hirvonen: “Sebastien was just faster and congratulations to him. Second position in Finland makes it even worse but if you do a perfect rally it is not enough against Sebastien. You have to do more because he is incredible.”
A disappointing finish for Ford, despite being able to match Citroen’s pace at times, it wasn’t enough to compete with them. Latvala Finished on the podium in 3rd place 35 seconds off the lead. Solberg managed 4th. Norwegian Mads Ostberg ended Rally finland in a good 5th place but admitted that he couldn’t keep up with the pace of the factory cars. Ford/M-Sports young gun Ott Tanak rounded out the top 6.