Loeb secures Rally of Turkey win
|By Matt Beer||Sunday, April 18th 2010, 12:02 GMT|
Sebastien Loeb stretched his winning run to a third straight rally victory as he took an ultimately-comfortable first place in Turkey.
The world champion hit the front when Citroen Junior driver Sebastien Ogier fell back with a tyre problem on Saturday afternoon, and then escaped from the pack today.
Petter Solberg and Mikko Hirvonen both hoped they could keep the pressure on Loeb this morning, but were left short of time to do so when two stages were cancelled due to poor road conditions after overnight downpours - and then cost themselves time with mistakes.
There was no repeat of the controversial tactics employed in Jordan, with the leaders preferring to push and try to win from the front rather than slowing to force rivals to run first on the dusty roads.
Loeb was pleased he had been able to win in this manner - although he said the likelihood of rain this morning made the decision easier.
"We decided to stay first on the road and it was a good choice," said Loeb. "We maybe expected rain, and I knew if I lifted off [on Saturday] and it rained, I was finished. I knew if it didn't rain, maybe I could keep my lead."
After a scare when he went off and brushed a tree on the first stage out of service this afternoon while trying to chase down Loeb, Solberg eased off and made sure of second place.
"It looked good for a while, but they cancelled a lot of stages today," he said. "I tried this morning but was very calm this afternoon. After I hit the tree, I thought 'okay, forget this.'"
Hirvonen also had a fright today, hitting a rock this morning and picking up a puncture. That dropped him to fourth behind Dani Sordo, but he regained a podium place when the Citroen slid off, clipped a tree and broke its suspension with two stages to go.
"I started this morning hoping we could fight for second or even the win," Hirvonen said. "We gave it everything, it went wrong and I lost my position, but now we're here [in third] again, so it's okay.
"But Sebastien is getting away again in the championship. I have to push harder in the next one."
Ogier had been the star of the first half of the weekend, emerging in the lead after early exchanges with Solberg and Hirvonen, then inching away from the huge battle between the works Fords, works Citroens and Solberg and holding first place.
Although he was always unlikely to be allowed to beat Loeb to a win, he was looking comfortable up front until a tyre blew on Saturday afternoon, relegating him to fourth in the end.
"It was a quite perfect weekend apart from one puncture, but that's part of rallying," said Ogier.
His Citroen Junior team-mate Kimi Raikkonen had his best World Rally Championship outing so far, winning an early battle with Federico Villagra (Munchi's Ford) and Matthew Wilson (Stobart Ford) to take fifth.
"It has been a good weekend for us - no big mistakes and no problems with the car," said Raikkonen. "Okay, we got two places because other guys went off, but that's part of it and I think we improved."
Ford number two Jari-Matti Latvala was in the top five fight until rolling on Saturday morning and losing a lot of time. Attrition ahead allowed him to salvage a distant eighth.
Other WRC runners in trouble were Henning Solberg (Stobart) and Ken Block (Monster Ford), who both damaged their cars on the very first stage of the weekend, then suffered various other problems when they returned for Saturday.
Aaron Burkart took a dominant Junior WRC win - and an outright point for 10th - after initial class rivals Kevin Abbring and Theirry Neuville had mechanical problems.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap 1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen 3h01m38.7s 2. Petter Solberg Citroen + 54.5s 3. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 1m43.4s 4. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 3m46.0s 5. Kimi Raikkonen Citroen + 6m44.3s 6. Federico Villagra Ford + 7m56.7s 7. Matthew Wilson Ford + 8m29.8s 8. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 19m44.2s 9. Dennis Kuipers Ford + 23m22.2s 10. Aaron Burkart Suzuki + 27m04.7s