Another WRC event, another one-two result for Citroën. This time it was Rally Finland and for the fourth race in succession we saw Sebastien Loeb finish first, with teammate Mikko Hirvonen close behind in second place.
After the rally Loeb said he was very happy to secure his third Rally Finland trophy. “I am really pleased to have clinched this third win here against a competitor as tenacious as Mikko,” said Sébastien Loeb. “It’s especially pleasing to have led the rally from start to finish. We pushed a lot, sometimes driving close to the limit. To drive like that, you need to have a car which you have total faith. The upgrades made this weekend to the DS3 WRC, especially on the shock absorbers, enabled us to move up another notch in terms of performance and how easy the car was to drive.”
Loeb, now on 171 points, extends his lead in the drivers’ championship to 43 points over Hirvonen (128). Petter Solberg (104) is third, a further 24 points behind. Unsurprisingly, Citroën is miles ahead in the constructors’ title—109 points ahead of Ford—and can probably start celebrating another win.
Citroën Australia provides the Rally Finland recap for you after the break, and includes updates on Australians Chris Atkinson, driving for the Qatar World Rally Team, and Molly Taylor, United Business/BP Rally Team. Both showed moments of promise before succumbing to accident and mechanical damage respectively.
Gold and silver for Citroën in Finland, Australian leads her class until going out on final day
Matching the medal-winning achievements of the French athletes at the London Olympics in the last few days, Citroen’s Sébastien Loeb produced another stunning performance at the weekend (1-4 August 2012) to win World Rally Championship Rally of Finland for the third time, leading a Citroen 1-2, the team’s fourth successive 1-2 win this season.
Chased throughout the race by his team-mates Mikko Hirvonen, Seb won what was also the 500th event in the FIA World Rally Championship. This fourth successive one-two finish meant the Citroën Total World Rally Team and its crews moved a little further clear in the Manufacturers’ and Drivers’ championship standings, with Loeb leading Hirvonen 171 to 128 points, and Citroen now leads Ford by more than 100 points in the manufacturers’ title chase.
Australia’s leading rally driver made his return to the World Rally Championship in his second drive for Citroen, this time at the wheel of the Citroen DS3 WRC and was well on the pace on day one in line with his target of a top five finish. But radio problems were start of a series of problems, which saw him stuck on a suffering radio problems at the start of the leg, he then found himself stuck on an embankment on SS8. Despite losing 16 minutes, he kept racing until one of his wheels was torn off when he hit the same rock as his team mate on special stage ten.
Like his stable-mate, Chris was able to compete on the final day thanks to the work of Citroën Racing Technologies’ mechanics, whose night was reduced to its strict minimum. Having to deal with running second on the road, he rebuilt his confidence before really enjoying the classis Ouninpohja stage: “It was really fantastic to drive on this stage again. I’d really like to thank the entire team. We have spent the weekend in a top class car. If I hadn’t made that mistake, I think we could have achieved my goal of finishing in the top five. I don’t know when I’ll be back in the WRC, but I hope it will be soon and with Citroën if possible!”
Up and coming Australian rally driver, Molly Taylor, behind the wheel of a Citroen DS3 R3T, made a solid start to the 2012 Rally of Finland, completing the first stage in 55th place in a field of 97 runners and began a steady climb up the leader board as she learnt more about unique conditions in Finland and how her Citroen coped with them. By the end of day one she had climbed to 50th place and day two say Molly in 38th place, well ahead of Chris Atkinson and by stage 15 on day three she was in 36th place and had inherited the class lead. But cruelly, with just the final stage to go, her Citroen DS3 succumbed to a mechanical problem, turning it into a three cylinder DS3, and she was out of the event. Her comment on Twitter said it all “Gutted to say we’re out” but she added ““Has been a great event for us though, learning lots and really enjoying stages. Huge thanks to United Business and BP Racing for the opportunity.”
With over 500 kilometres to cover in total, but with only 30km of timed stages, day one of Rally Finland was a long and tiring day, if not totally exhausting. After leaving the service park just after lunch, the competitors headed for Lahti, 200km to the south of Jyväskylä. Cheered on by the crowds, the WRC stars tackled the Koukunmaa test before taking on the Jokimaa super special stage. The return trip featured Mynnilä, the third stage of the day. The cars finally made it back to the service park at 10.30pm!
Having set the fastest time on the day’s two ‘proper’ stages, unsurprisingly Sébastien Loeb grabbed the overall lead in a rally that he has already won twice: “After going fastest in qualifying, I cannot but be pleased to have continued my good form and to lead the rally this evening! I wanted to set off at a strong pace on SS1, because the level of grip was good and I felt very good in the car. I am especially pleased with my time on SS3, because it went perfectly. I pushed hard and didn’t hold back at all. I couldn’t have gone any faster! As confirmed during the tests we did last weekend,
the DS3 WRC is ideal for these roads. We mustn’t get too carried away, however, this first leg was just a taster for what is to come. The two remaining legs will be much more difficult and the other leading contenders are just a few seconds behind.”
Sixth on stage one, Mikko Hirvonen moved up into second position after SS3. 7.3s behind his team-mate, the rally’s local driver refused to be upset: “Today’s result is pretty much in line with my plans. Last year, I was over two minutes behind the leader at the end of day one. This time, I’m only seven seconds adrift so I have definitely made progress! I didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks in the first few kilometres, although I did run wide onto the verge a few times on Mynnilä… I’ll have to stay on the road tomorrow! I am sure that it’s going to be an interesting scrap to watch.”
Thierry Neuville surprised everyone with a top-level performance to finish third on SS1. Fifth overall, 9s behind Loeb, the Citroën Junior World Rally Team driver is still very aware of the immense challenge facing him here: “The car moved around a lot on the first stage and I was almost surprised to finish third. I think I lost a lot a bit of time at the start of SS3, because my pace notes weren’t accurate enough. I wanted to start the race at a good pace, so it’s very good to be among the leaders.”
For his first day of racing in a DS3 WRC, Chris Atkinson finished in seventh place in his Qatar World Rally Team car: “I am really pleased with my start. I’ve lost a little time, but it’s still reasonable given my lack of experience with Citroën. I have to improve my driving to iron out the minor mistakes.”
This second leg featured a total of 133 kilometres, broken down into nine timed stages and concentrated on roads around Jyväskylä. The sun had been up for a while as the first competitors lined up at the start of Urria (SS4), at 7.42am. Wasting no time in showing his intention, rally leader Sébastien Loeb started the day with a stage win. It didn‘t take long, however, for Mikko Hirvonen to respond: by the end of Jukojärvi, one of his favourites stages, the local lad had closed the gap to his team-mate to under five seconds.
After the first service period of the day, racing resumed with a loop of three stages. Somewhat forgetting the rally’s other leading contenders, Seb and Mikko enjoyed a stunning one-on-one scrap. Despite winning the Mökkiperä and Lankamaa stages, Hirvonen lost another six tenths to Loeb! “I’m just going to have to push even harder,” warned the Finn before the day’s second 30-minute service period. “I know Seb will respond to my attacks, but I must stay in touch if I want to be in with a chance of winning.”
“Things weren‘t made any easier by the handling of the car: the rear differential overheated when the oil drained off after losing a cap,” explained the eight-time World Champion. “It’s great that the two Citroëns are fighting it out for victory. The others are not far behind in terms of out-and-out performance, but they are less consistent and have dropped a few seconds on certain stages. In any case, as things stand, we certainly can’t afford to relax at all!”
The day continued with a second run on the loop of three stages. This time, the advantage was held by Mikko Hirvonen, who cut the deficit to three seconds before the super special stage around the Killeri racecourse. However, the Finn then lost two seconds on the day’s final test: “A faulty sensor meant I had to keep declutching to move up the gears. We lost a few tenths but we are still very much in contention to win the rally. With two runs on the Ouninpohja test tomorrow, the craziest part is still to come!”
“I don’t think we let our level drop at all today,” said a breathless Sébastien Loeb. “You can only keep going at this kind of pace if you have absolute faith in the car. And once again, the DS3 WRC was perfect. I’m ready for the final battle tomorrow. I have been leading since the first stage, and I am determined to stay where I am right to the end!”
The two other Citroën DS3 WRCs taking part in this rally were unable to complete the day’s stages after going off. First of all, Chris Atkinson lost 16 minutes after making a mistake on SS8. “I misheard a pace note and turned right on a crest instead of left thinking I was at the next corner”, recounted the Australian, who remained in the race after repairs at the service park. The Qatar World Rally Team driver was unable to continue today, however, after severely damaging one the wheels when he hit a rock on the racing line on SS10.
Whilst fighting to regain fifth position from Mads Østberg, Thierry Neuville also went off on SS11: “There was a loud noise in the car after we hit the same rock as Chris on the previous stage. I couldn’t really hear what Nicolas was saying to me and we ended up rolling at low speed on a tight bend. Obviously, I’m disappointed, as it had been going well up to that point.”
Leading by five seconds at the start of the long final day, the eight time World Champions were just as determined to win as their team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen. The day featured three parts: after two runs on a loop of two stages, Surkee and Leustu, the competitors were then faced with two runs on the famous 33km-long Ouninpohja test.
Mikko gave himself a fright when he clipped an old tree stump in a narrow section right at the start of SS13. Believing – wrongly as it turned out – he had picked up a puncture, the Finn lost a few precious seconds. On the next stage, Sébastien experienced similar feelings to those of his team-mate: “I didn’t hit anything, but it felt like the rear of the car was sliding around a lot. In actual fact, it was just a change in grip that I had misinterpreted. At times like this, when the battle is really intense, a lot of stuff goes on in your head…” This loop had nonetheless enabled the eight-time World Champion to extend his lead to 7.4s. The tussle continued on the second runs, as Seb grabbed another couple of seconds.
The dream of the hundreds of thousands of fans watching the rally – a fight for victory over the Ouninpohja jumps – was therefore set to come true! In front of the TV cameras broadcasting the stage live, Loeb and Hirvonen fought tooth and nail, the two drivers taking it in turns to steal a few tenths at each split. At the stop control for SS17, Mikko had made up 2.2s on Seb. Although he had cut Seb’s lead to 7.2s, the Jyväskylä driver admitted that it was unlikely that his team-mate would let this round slip.
The second run also served as the Power Stage, bonus points being awarded for the best three times. Just like the rest of the rally, the Citroën drivers were very strong again. Mikko pushed hard every inch of the way to set the best time with 15:17.3. With an average speed of 129.54kph, he beat Petter Solberg’s record that had stood since 2004. “I came to win and so I’m obviously a little bit disappointed to finish second,” admitted Mikko. “I tried everything. I drove ‘flat out’ for three days but Sébastien was just faster. I’d like to thank Citroën for letting us race each other freely and I’m proud to be involved in securing this fifth one-two finish for the team.”
“I am really pleased to have clinched this third win here against a competitor as tenacious as Mikko,” said Sébastien Loeb, third in the Power Stage and overall winner by 6.1s. “It’s especially pleasing to have led the rally from start to finish. We pushed a lot, sometimes driving close to the limit. To drive like that, you need to have a car which you have total faith. The upgrades made this weekend to the DS3 WRC, especially on the shock absorbers, enabled us to move up another notch in terms of performance and how easy the car was to drive. I’d also like to thank Michelin – their Latitude Cross soft tyres were fast, durable and hard wearing.”
“I’d like to congratulate and thank our crews: we knew we were taking a risk in letting them fight it out like that, but they proved worthy of our trust by keeping the cars on the road… and in the top two places,” emphasized Frédéric Banzet, Citroën General Manager. “This team has shown once again that it is the best in the world; this fifth one-two finish in eight rallies shows the progress we are making and we are determined to keep the run going at the last five rallies of the season, which are due to be held in countries that are important for the Brand.”