The Citroën Total World Rally Team clinched its third one-two finish of the season in the last leg of Rally Germany. Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia scored their first win on tarmac, taking the win ahead of Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena. In doing so, Citroën racked up its 78th success in the FIA World Rally Championship, becoming the manufacturer with the highest number of wins in the sport.
The stages on the third day were through the vineyards bordering the Moselle region where thick clouds filled the sky as the crews left parc fermé in Trier. Weather forecasts said there would be rain in the stages, so the Citroën Racing mechanics changed the suspension settings and fitted Michelin Pilot Sport soft tires on the two works DS3 WRCs.
In the first stage, Dhrontal, there were only a few damp spots. The Citroën Total World Rally Team crews did not take risks and consolidated their lead over their rivals, losing a few seconds in the process. The next stage, Moselwein, became very wet. The choice of soft tires enabled the two Sébastiens to avoid all the traps in this sector. “We made the right choice this morning,” said Ogier when he came back to the service park. “I stayed in the middle of the road and did not cut the apexes to avoid punctures. We’re nursing our lead while trying to stay concentrated.”
“No worries. I’m just happy to drive,” added Loeb. “As it looks like the rain’s going to continue, we’re going to keep the soft rubber for the second loop and the power stage.” Loeb set the quickest time in stages 17 and 18 and was concentrating all his attention on the final stage that awards bonus points. The seven-time world champion really went for it in the streets of Trier and bagged three additional points by setting the quickest time, while Ogier added two to his tally.
“I have to say there was no way that victory was a foregone conclusion as I was up against Seb who has never lost in Germany and is always very quick on tarmac. I’m absolutely delighted with this win as we’ve proved we’re quick on this surface. It’s boosted our motivation for the end of the championship. I’m not perhaps in the best position but I’ll fight as long as I’ve still got a chance,” commented Ogier.
“After my eight wins on the trot in Germany, there’s no way I can be pleased with second place,” frowned Loeb. “I’ve been saying for the past few years that this series of wins would eventually come to an end – and it has! We were unlucky, but that’s racing. Mathematically speaking, my second place and the points from the power stage mean we still have a victory in hand.”
Meanwhile, the Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen finished fourth in Rallye Deutschland as the opening asphalt round of the FIA World Rally Championship season delivered a tough encounter. Their Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car headed the team's challenge as colleagues Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila finished 14th following a hugely frustrating weekend.
After eight loose surface rallies, the new-generation WRC cars finally had the opportunity to tackle a pure asphalt event in south-west Germany. Trier, the country's oldest city, hosted the rally which proved as unpredictable as ever thanks to the vagaries of the weather and the varied characteristics of the speed tests. Competitors tackled 19 special stages covering 359.59km over three distinctly different types of roads. Bumpy, narrow tracks among the undulating vineyards alongside the banks of the Mosel river contrasted with flowing public roads in the Saarland countryside.
But the sternest challenge was offered by the tank training tracks on the Baumholder military range. Wide asphalt contrasted with bumpy, abrasive concrete and high kerbstones, known as hinkelsteins, which line the roads to keep the tanks in position.
The team's choice of hard compound Michelin Pilot Sport tires delivered an early setback when rain deluged the middle test on Friday morning's opening loop. As a result, Hirvonen dropped more than 30sec and, after hitting a wall and damaging his car's suspension in the afternoon, the 31 year-old Finn ended the leg in third. A puncture on Sturday morning cost a minute, and although Hirvonen won the opening test of Sunday’s final leg among the Mosel grapes, he could not regain the podium position.
"It was a difficult weekend because so many things happened," said Hirvonen, who is third in the drivers' standings. "When everything went well, I had a good pace and if we continue to work hard as a team and improve the car, then we can challenge on the remaining asphalt rounds. I'm looking forward to getting back on the gravel at the next round in Australia where I feel we can be strong."
Latvala led after Friday's opening stage, but the 26 year-old Finn also lost time in the rain before an electronic problem and two punctures dropped him to 15th. On Saturday he climbed to 10th despite a stomach upset, before puncturing a tire after hitting a tree stump and crashing on the next bend. He retired but started Sunday's final leg in torrential rain under SupeRally rules.
"This was the most difficult rally I've ever had as a factory driver in a WRC car," he said. "I encountered many problems, some of which were down to my driving, and I'm disappointed with the final outcome. On the other hand, I also set some good times, winning three stages. The car felt good and we have improved on asphalt overall. Brakes and suspension are two areas in which we can work."
Among the other Ford teams, M-Sport Stobart Ford crew Henning Solberg/Ilka Minor finished seventh after overcoming brake troubles, while Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin were 11th in another Fiesta RS WRC.
Aaron Burkart/André Kachel were 23rd but the team's other car, driven by Mads Østberg/Jonas Andersson crashed into retirement on Sunday morning. Dennis Kuipers/Frederic Miclotte were 10th for the FERM Power Tools World Rally Team, having been as high as seventh before losing three minutes in Saturday's final stage with a puncture.
Monster World Rally Team's Ken Block/Alex Gelsomino were 17th. The Ford Fiesta S2000 completed a clean sweep of the podium in the S-WRC support championship, headed by Ott Tänak/Kuldar Sikk, who finished 12th overall.
Continuing to use a Skoda Fabia S2000 to develop its team for a full WRC assault in 2013 with the Polo R WRC, the Volkswagen factory team finished a successful test run on home soil at the ADAC Rallye Deutschland by taking two podium places.
The junior duo of Hans Weijs Jr (NL) and Bjoern Degandt (B) put in a good performance and occupied second place in the Super 2000 field. Their team-mates, German duo Christian Riedemann and Michael Wenzel finished third in class and, by claiming 15th place overall, were the best German team on the event.
The series returns to gravel next month with a new-look Rally Australia. Coffs Harbour is the new home for the final non-European round of the season on 8-11 September.
|1. S Ogier/J Ingrassia||FRA||Citroen DS3||3hr 32min 15.9sec|
|2. S Loeb/D Elena||FRA||Citroen DS3||3hr 32min 55.7sec|
|3. D Sordo/C Del Barrio||ESP||Mini John Cooper||3hr 34min 11.5sec|
|4. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen||FIN||Ford Fiesta RS||3hr 34min 59.6sec|
|5. P Solberg/C Patterson||NOR||Citroen DS3||3hr 36min 03.9sec|
|6. K Räikkönen/K Lindström||FIN||Citroen DS3||3hr 39min 40.5sec|
|7. H Solberg/I Minor||NOR||Ford Fiesta RS||3hr 40min 01.8sec|
|8. A Araujo/M Ramalho||PRT||Mini John Cooper||3hr 41min 45.7sec|
|9. P Van Merksteijn/E Mombaerts||NLD||Citroen DS3||3hr 42min 17.5sec|
|10 D Kuipers/F Miclotte||NLD||Ford Fiesta RS||3hr 42min 24.9sec|
|1. S Loeb||192pts|
|2. S Ogier||167pts|
|3. M Hirvonen||156pts|
|4. J-M Latvala||96pts|
|5. P Solberg||94pts|
|6. M Østberg||56pts|
|1. Citroen Total||333pts|
|2. Ford Abu Dhabi||242pts|
|3. M-Sport Stobart Ford||105pts|
|4. Petter Solberg||83pts|
|5. Ice 1 Racing||48pts|
|6. Munchi's Ford||32pts|