3 words – Wales, Hirvonen & Loeb. In recent times, when you mention Wales Rally GB you think of Loeb vs Hirvonen. The title battle. All or nothing. In 2009 Hirvonen lost the WRC drivers’ championship by 1 point and a broken bonnet pin. In 2011 it was just as tight, Hirvo was in the lead, Loeb was pushing hard to catch up, the Rally and the championship became all about ‘Last man standing’. And again it was Loeb who stood to take the title, and Hirvonen was left with a Branch up his radiator.
But this time round, its different. Mikko Hirvonen has taken the Phrase, ‘If you can’t beat them then join them’ literally. This weekend we won’t be seeing Hirvonen and Loeb fight each other, very much the opposite actually, they will both be teaming up to win. With Loeb almost unstoppable and His closest rival in 8 years helping him and Citroen, you would think it will be all waved Citroen Reds for the champions to the end.
Rally GB may be in Wales but it’s still a home event for the Blue Oval. Jari Matti Latvala picked up the pieces last year after the now Citroen pair were out. And the Flying Finn took the win. And he will be all out to do it again this weekend. Latvala has had a disappointing year since his win in Sweden, but he wants to show that he still has what it takes. However there is another man who can make things more complicated for Citroen. Latvala’s team mate Petter Solberg. The Norwegian joined Ford to replace Hirvonen at the start of the season. Petter has won in the Welsh Forests more times than any other driver and will be looking to make it 5 wins in GB this weekend. Having not won a WRC event since 2005 his a hungry man.
So despite the lack of title fight, and the event no longer being the last in the season. There will still be a battle in the Welsh forests. With the date change, there ‘should’ be better weather which means better stage conditions and according to the crews doing the recce, the roads are in “perfect” condition. But lets not forget this is Wales. So Rally fans will still be sitting on a hill for hours in the middle of no where in what will feel like minus 20, in the sideways rain. But it wouldn’t be Rally GB if they weren’t.
Outside the factory drivers, another man to watch out for this weekend will be Mads Ostberg. The Norwegian has said that he is out to try and prove that he deserves a Factory drive next year. His put in some impressive performances this season and finished on the podium here last year. Making a return to the Welsh forests will be Britain’s Matthew Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin. After Wilson injured his leg in training at the beginning of the year he hasn’t been able to drive in WRC, even since he recovered, due to lack of funds. Australian Chris Atkinson is also returning to Rally GB for the first time since he was driving for Subaru WRT. Atko will be competing in the Team Portugal run Mini.
The event this year has gone back to its 3 day format. With The Rally based in Cardiff Friday, Day 1 of the rally will be the longest day with 6 stages, 146Kms. Day 2 consists of 7 stages, ending with the Celtic Manor Super special stage, A total of 95kms. Day 3 will cover 6 stages. Ending with Walters Arena which will be used as the 14km Power Stage. Day 3 a total stage distance of 82kms.
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