Three days of road sweeping in Italy at the weekend wasn’t enough to stop Citroen’s Sébastien Loeb giving the new Citroen DS3 WRC its fourth win in its debut season when he dominated the fifth round of the World Rally Championship
As the front runner in the Italian WRC round, Loeb had the dubious honour of being the first on the road, which meant that he had to sweep the surface of each stage of loose dust and dirt to leave a cleaner, quicker surface for his following rivals who usually can set faster times.
But this didn’t slow the Frenchman down. He ended the first loop on day one a scant 2.7 seconds ahead of his nearest challenger, but by the end of the day he had pulled the lead out to 33 seconds, which was the good news, the bad news being that he would be, as the leader of day one, the road sweeper for day two.
Day two saw Loeb hold his rivals at bay, while sweeping the road, but his lead was cut back 23.7 seconds, as the other drivers fought relentlessly to catch the head road sweeper and to settle the fight for the positions behind the number one spot.
The first stage was the short Gallura special, also used at the end of the rally for the Power Stage. The seven-time world champion was again handicapped by his position on the road, and he lost a few seconds cutting his lead to 20.2s.
“The next stage Monte Olia (SS16), was less penalizing in terms of sweeping. I didn’t have any choice. I had to keep pushing to fend off a comeback by Mikka,” said Loeb. “In SS17, I started off at a hot pace. Then I realized that he wasn’t catching me and I lifted off slightly in the closing kilometers.”
Sébastien Ogier began the day with the aim of a podium finish, but his hopes were dashed in SS17: “I hadn’t noted a little milestone buried on the exit from a fast corner. The left-hand rear wheel hit it and the suspension broke. I stopped as I thought we’d had a puncture. We were able to continue and we dropped more than a minute on the stage. But it could have been worse as we lost only one place.”
After the 30-minute service halt which gave the mechanics time to repair the no. 2 Citroën DS3 WRC, only the Power Stage remained to end the rally. Loeb bagged another point by setting the third-fastest time in this stage. The Frenchman admitted that his sixty-fourth success was one of the toughest of his long career “It’s a great victory as we won without any particular strategy. We started with the big disadvantage of being first out on the road on the opening day. We managed to take the lead and build up a small cushion, which we maintained yesterday and today. To do so we had to go pedal to the metal from start to finish. I felt good in the car, and this helped me push really hard. Obviously, it was very fraught at certain moments so it’s a big relief to see the end of the rally.”
Ogier held on to fourth place and scored good points for both world championships: “We failed to achieve our aim of finishing on the podium, but fourth isn’t too bad a result in itself. I lack experience in this rally in relation to the other drivers. I never really felt relaxed as I was absolutely determined to finish an event in which I’ve never had much luck.”
“Sébastien Loeb drove an extraordinary rally. To win here while being first on the road in all three legs is a mega performance,” summed up Frédéric Banzet, the Citroën General Manager. “ Sébastien Ogier wasn’t very lucky today but he scored good points. Yet again I was impressed by the professionalism of the whole team, which works in a serene, cooperative and enthusiastic ambience.”