Latvala captures final WRC victory; Loeb secures 8th WRC crown

latvala-captures-final-wrc-victory-loeb-secures-8th-wrc-crown  Round 13 and final event of the 2011 World Rally Championship (WRC) in Wales saw plenty of exciting rallying and a shocking turnaround which assured Citroen’s Sebastian Loeb his eighth WRC crown. With eight points separating Loeb and rival Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen in the drivers’ standings prior to the Rally GB, the two drivers went to the wire on a day to day basis and only Hirvonen’s exclusion due to a forced retirement on Friday gave Loeb a free pass to the title.

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Loeb took it easy in the following stages as he knew the title was already in the bag, until his retirement prior to the start of the final day’s stages. Hirvonen’s team mate and fellow countryman Jari Matti Latvala (above left) captured the Wales Rally GB victory from Mads Østberg and Henning Solberg for a Ford 1-2-3 finish. The event covered the length of Wales and after starting at Llandudno in the north on Thursday, competitors tackled 353.53km of competition before the final day’s finish in Cardiff.

The final Drivers’ tally reads Loeb on 222 points, still only 8 points ahead of Hirvonen. What a heartbreak for Hirvonen who’s targeting his very first WRC championship…well maybe next year will be a better year for the Finn. The final tally for Citroen also included ten victories in thirteen rallies, the manufacturers’ and drivers’ titles. Second driver Sébastien Ogier managed a lowly 11th place and maintained third in final drivers classifications.

 

 The final Drivers’ tally reads Loeb on 222 points, still only 8 points ahead of Hirvonen. What a heartbreak for Hirvonen who’s targeting his very first WRC championship…well maybe next year will be a better year for the Finn. The final tally for Citroen also included ten victories in thirteen rallies, the manufacturers’ and drivers’ titles. Second driver Sébastien Ogier managed a lowly 11th place and maintained third in final drivers classifications.
Loeb set out to take the fight for victory to Latvala on the final leg,  but was involved in an accident when a car from the opposite direction rammed into their DS3 on a liaison section between SS18 and 19. The accident forced Loeb to abandon his run at the start of the last day of the race. With Hirvonen already retired the previous day, Loeb wasn’t too bothered by the commotion because he knew he had already secured his 8th WRC title.  “It’s a pity because I would have liked to have finished the battle with Jari-Matti (Latvala). What happened is fairly ordinary: we were on a narrow road and we came upon a car on the top of a crest where there was no visibility. The Spanish driver had the wrong reflex and pulled in to the right and we collided,” explained Loeb. “The radiator was damaged and we were out on the spot. It’s proof that a rally isn’t over till you’re back in the parc fermé!”
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Latvala claimed his fifth WRC victory, and his first since July last year, as the Fiesta RS WRC took eight of the top nine places in the four-day Rally GB. Latvala won by 3:42.9 in front of Østberg, leading 11 of the 23 speed tests. Hirvonen (above), of course, was struck by bad luck on the Dyfnant stage when he hit a tree stump and was forced out of the rally. The Finn started in second just 0.7sec behind title rival Loeb and struggled with visibility during the opening stage, but overcame the difficulties to lead the field.  However, his bid for glory ended cruelly just a handful of kilometres after the start at Dyfnant. A spin resulted in a tree branch piercing the radiator of his Fiesta RS WRC, causing the engine to lose water and overheat several kilometres later. Hirvonen stopped to remove the branch but lost almost four minutes and was forced to stop on the 100km liaison section to service.  Despite the efforts from the mechanics to enable Hirvonen to restart the final leg under SupeRally regulations, the damage was unrepairable.
Latvala felt unwell during the first full day of competition, but as his health improved so did his pace and he ended the leg just 1.1sec from the lead after a thrilling duel with Loeb.  The Finn moved ahead on the third day but a slender 6.1sec advantage meant there was still everything to fight for during the last day’s final six special stages, covering 84.04km in the Brecon Beacon mountains and over the Epynt military ranges. Latvala widened his lead during the opening stage, but when Loeb was forced to retire the Finnish driver measured his pace over the remaining tests.  Nevertheless, he won two more stages en route to the finish at Cardiff Castle.
“It’s a great way to end the season! It has been a long time since my last win and I’ve endured some frustrating times since then, but they’re now over. Everything came together during the second half of the season and I’m so pleased to win here.  It’s my 10th Rally GB and it’s the rally where I began my WRC career in 2002, so it feels like a home event for me,” Latvala beamed.
“When Seb retired, the pressure lifted from my shoulders.  I eased my pace and didn’t take any risks, although the change from driving flat out to driving more cautiously was tricky.  But I found the right rhythm and kept my concentration, which isn’t easy when you’re not driving on the limit.  The team did a great job all year and this was a brilliant way to close the season,” he added.
Latvala also won the Abu Dhabi Spirit of the Rally Award in recognition of his performance. Team-mate Evgeny Novikov finished seventh in their debut for the Ford Abu Dhabi squad.
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MINI WRC Team’s drivers were fighting to the very end to give the team a great result on the last event of its first year in the WRC. Kris Meeke finished the event in fourth, while Dani Sordo et the second fastest time in the final test of the day, the Power Stage at Monument, and finished 20th overall.
From the first stage of the day, Meeke was determined to do everything he could to snatch a podium on his home event, and by the start of the final stage of the day the gap was down to 1.8 seconds. Unfortunately he hit a rut and had a half spin  and this was enough to put paid to his challenge.”Hopefully there is a bigger future for us than fighting for third overall, as in a year’s time we want to be able to fight for a win. I feel very positive about the season as for a new car and a new team to be in there challenging for podiums is fantastic,” Meeke commented in post event.
Sordo had a difficult first day and started on a quicker pace on the second day. “Despite what happened on Friday, I am happy and now I have a lot more confidence in the car in the conditions we have had here in Wales,” Sordo described. “Although the sun was shining, the final leg’s many parts on the tarmac with gravel tyres were slippery. The season has been interesting because the car has become better and better. Obviously we now need to develop it more,” Sordo concluded.
Results
1.  J-M Latvala/M Anttila               Ford        3:27: 03.5
2.  M Østberg/J Andersson          Ford        3:30: 46.4
3.  H Solberg/I Minor                     Ford         3: 34: 08.6
4.  K Meeke/P Nagle                    Mini           3: 34:15.8
5.  M Wilson/S Martin                   Ford          3:36: 00.8
6.  O Tänak/K Sikk                       Ford          3:36: 30.6
7.  E Novikov/D Giraudet             Ford          3:36:51.2
8.  D Kuipers/F Miclotte               Ford          3:37:16.2
9.  K Block/A Gelsomino             Ford          3:43:04.7
10 A Araújo/M Ramalho              Mini           3:44:05.1
Drivers standings
1.  S Loeb                                222 pts
2.  M Hirvonen                      214 pts
3.  S Ogier                               196 pts
4.  J-M Latvala                       172 pts
5.  P Solberg                           110 pts
6.  M Østberg                            88 pts
Manufacturers
1.  Citroen Total                      403 pts
2.  Ford Abu Dhabi               376 pts
3.  M-Sport Stobart Ford       178 pts
4.  Petter Solberg                    98 pts
5.  FERM Power Tools          54 pts
6.  Team Abu Dhabi               54 pts