Sebastien Loeb marked his final outing as a full-time driver in the FIA World Rally Championship with the 76th victory of his career on RallyRACC-Rally de Espana, which finished in Salou this afternoon following three days of thrilling competition.
After struggling for pace through Friday’s rain-hit, mainly gravel tests, Loeb moved in front on the asphalt of day two and remained at the head of the field thereafter in his Citroen Total World Rally Team DS3 WRC.
The win, shared with co-driver Daniel Elena, was their eighth in Spain and the 250th in the WRC for tyre partner Michelin.
Jari-Matti Latvala signed-off as a factory Ford driver in second place with Mikko Hirvonen third in the second works Citroen. Latvala’s finishing position and victory on the Power Stage this afternoon earned sufficient points to land third in the final drivers’ table ahead of Mads Ostberg, who led after day one but slipped back on day two with set-up issues and a costly spin.
“For sure I really wanted to win this rally,” said Loeb, who is targeting a partial programme of WRC events in 2013 as he revs up for a planned assault on the FIA World Touring Car Championship with Citroen two years from now. “We were really struggling in the start because it was really tricky on the first day. On the Tarmac I was able to take the lead but today was not easy because we had some strange tyre choice and Jari-Matti was pushing very hard and getting closer.”
Loeb opted for a combination of soft and hard compound Michelin covers for Sunday’s closing trio of stages in the belief it would be raining in the middle test - the 26.51-kilometre Santa Marina Power Stage.
However, while it was damp in sections due to light drizzle, the anticipated heavy deluge didn’t materialise and Loeb’s tyre choice proved far from ideal for the conditions. Latvala, meanwhile, opted for hard compound tyres and set two fastest stage times to narrow Loeb’s winning margin to seven seconds.
“I would like to have done one more stage because it has been good to fight with Loeb,” said Latvala, who will join Volkswagen Motorsport from 2013 as his former team M-Sport prepares for a new era following Ford’s decision to end its WRC sponsorship. “I have had some fantastic years with Ford and thanks to Malcolm Wilson for being so supportive even though I’ve had many crashes.”
Ford privateer Mads Ostberg finished fourth, 9.6s behind Hirvonen, with Jarkko Nikara moving up to a fine fifth after Ott Tanak and Hans Weijs both crashed out. Craig Breen secured the Super 2000 World Rally Championship crown in a career-best sixth overall with Chris Atkinson seventh for WRC Team MINI Portugal.
P-G Andersson finished eighth for PROTON with Dani Sordo battling back to ninth following early delays. But it was a case of what might have been for the Spaniard, who won a total of six stages, including four on Sunday, in his Prodrive-run MINI. Evgeny Novikov beat Petter Solberg to the final drivers’ championship point in tenth despite a 10-minute penalty when the tread depth of his soft-compound DMACK tyres was found to be under the 1.6-milimetre minimum requirement due to excessive wear on Saturday afternoon’s dry stages.
click: wrc.com/sunday wrap
Sunday SWRC wrap:
Craig Breen has clinched the FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship with an emotional victory on RallyRACC-Rally de Espana today.
With a lead of 3m19.6s over Sweden’s P-G Andersson starting Sunday’s final six stages, the Irishman drove without error to the finish in Salou in his Tom Gahan Motorsport Ford Fiesta to make it two FIA titles in as many seasons.
In 2011 Breen and Gareth Roberts won the inaugural FIA WRC Academy Cup and they used the scholarship prize on offer to step up to the SWRC.
“This is incredible, it’s beyond my wildest dreams,” said the 22-year-old, who resumed his driving career in the summer following the death of his co-driver Roberts on an accident on the Targa Florio Rally in Sicily back in June. “I really couldn’t have done this without everybody’s support and good wishes so I’d like to take this moment to thank each and everyone of you. It’s the perfect attribute to Gareth too and I am so happy to have won this title for him.”
PROTON driver Andersson dropped out of title-winning contention when he suffered a significant time loss from a broken driveshaft and an off on Friday. The Swede battled back but was unable to make up the lost time and challenge Breen for the win.
“Of course I would like to have won but Craig deserves this title,” said Andersson at the finish. “We had a high speed spin on stage 17 and we couldn’t catch Craig unless something happened to him so it was just about getting to the end of the rally.”
With Breen’s replacement co-driver Paul Nagle only contesting the final four events of the year, Andersson’s co-driver Emil Axelsson bagged the co-drivers’ accolade, six years after he partnered Patrik Sandell to the Junior world title.
Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi had an outside chance of winning the SWRC crown in Spain but a turbo failure on day one put him out. He restarted on day two to finish in third. “This has been a big season for me, I have learned a lot thanks to my team and co-driver [Michael Orr]. I hope to be back next year,” said Al-Rajhi at the finish.
After a strong debut performance at the wheel of a second PROTON, Alastair Fisher finished fourth with New Zealander Hayden Paddon battling back to fifth as both drivers relied on Rally 2 rules to get to the end.
click: wrc.com/ SWRC sunday wrap
...^just awesome congrats to Craig & respect to "Jaffa" (Gareth Roberts)
Sunday PWRC wrap:
Benito Guerra has described winning a six-way battle for FIA Production World Rally Championship glory on RallyRACC-Rally de Espana as the best day of his life.
With an advantage of almost six minutes starting the final day, it was a case of keeping his concentration and coaxing his Mitsubishi Lancer to the finish. Apart from overheating brakes in the morning, little troubled the Mexican, who secured the PWRC title with his third victory of the season alongside co-driver Borja Rozada from Spain.
“I think this is the best day of my life,” said Guerra. “This is the first FIA title for me and for Mexico and the feeling is like nothing I have experienced before. I think this will also bring me new opportunities and new sponsors, maybe I will even step up to a World Rally Car. Thanks to everyone who helped me win this weekend.”
Argentina’s Marcos Ligato had led after day one only for brake woes to drop him back. He eventually finished second after snatching the spot from Subhan Aksa when the Indonesian hit trouble on stage 16. Ligato’s efforts earned him the coveted runner-up spot in the final table ahead of Ukraine’s Valeriy Gorban, who finished fourth in Spain behind Aksa.
Poland’s Michal Kosciuszko restarted on Sunday following his off on day two to take sixth on the rally behind Italy’s Lorenzo Bertelli and fourth in the final standings. Aksa finishes fifth in the overall standings with Nicolas Fuchs sixth. The Peruvian retired on Saturday’s first stage after his brakes caught fire. He restarted and finished ninth.
Spanish wildcard Yeray Lemes also restarted under Rally 2 rules after dropping out with a mechanical fault on Saturday. He impressed by winning all six stages on Sunday.
click: wrc.com/ PWRC sunday wrap
and thats it for WRC 2012 ...see you in the New Year...Next year’s WRC season fires into life on Rallye Monte-Carlo on 15 January 2013, 65 days from now.