June 26, 2005 Sebastien Loeb dominated the final day of the Acropolis Rally here today, winning the Greek round of the World Rally Championship for his fifth win in a row, with Citroen Xsaras finishing first and third and putting the French marque into the lead in the manufacturers championship table too. Such was the French driver's control of what is traditionally the toughest event of the season, that on the longest day of the event, Sébastien Loeb put in the fastest time on every single stage and finished the event more than one and a half minutes ahead of his nearest rival. Joining Loeb on the podium at the finish with a fine third place was team mate Carlos Sainz, climbing up on to the podium for a remarkable 97th time from 196 WRC starts. Symbolically, as this will be his last WRC event, this is also the place that Sainz recorded the first of his world record 26 wins.
With six wins in his 2005 account, Sébastien Loeb now leads the driver's championship by 23 points and the weekend's work by Loeb and Sainz has put Citroen back at the top of the Manufacturer's title chase.
Loeb's performance was not just fast, it was mature, with the Frenchman resisting to start the event with the gung-ho performance that brought a number of his rivals to grief on day one. Then on the last day, with a massive lead, he brought the Citroen home and into the record books.
"I lifted over the rocky ruts of 'Dikastro' and, over the last two stages, which were very badly cut up in places, I really took it easy. I wasn't even flat out along some straights over the pebbles towards the end of 'Perivoli'! Five wins in a row? It hasn't really sunk in yet," added the defending World Champion. "All I know for the moment is that thanks to the team's efforts to give us perfect cars and also thanks to Michelin, this rally has been extremely positive in view of both title chases. We know we're not invincible and this winning run will come to an end one day but, if we want to extend it, we cannot afford to relax and next week we will be back out testing."
Loeb's latest exploit will undoubtedly go down in rallying history. The last Frenchman to win the Acropolis Rally was Didier Auriol in 1992. The last French car to finish on top here was the Peugeot 205 in 1986, while you have to go back to Jean-Luc Thérier's success with Alpine in 1973 to find the last win for a Frenchman in Greece driving a French car.
Carlos Sainz had no reason to regret succumbing to the friendly pressure applied by Citroen team boss Guy Fréquelin to compete in Greece.
"A month and a half ago, I was following Citroën's results in the press and phoning up every now and again for a friendly chat. I didn't have the slightest idea I would soon find myself back competing with the Xsara WRC. It's been a fantastic weekend! I am proud to have succeeded in meeting the objective Guy set me, and proud to have scored valuable points in both events. The team is back on top of the championship and I hope it will stay there. They deserve it. As for me, I have finished my career in world class rallying on the podium of the event that gave me my first WRC win. What more could a sportsman ask for?"
Citroën's CEO Claude Satinet was naturally delighted with the successful outcome of what he calls the "Carlos operation". "It succeeded beyond our hopes because Carlos came back as competitive and meticulous as ever, with the same will to win. In short, the same professionalism and the same great personality! I am very, very happy that his effort has been rewarded with yet another podium finish," said Claude Satinet at the finish.
Guy Fréquelin was beaming as he personally congratulated all the members of his team one by one: "Our current sequence of wins and our return to the top of the Manufacturers' points table are down to the talent of our crews, Seb and Daniel and Carlos and Marc, but also to the untiring work of Citroën Sport and its partners, notably Michelin. I am also very happy with the top-ten finish of Xavier Pons and the times set by Manfred Stohl with their privately-entered, Kronos-run Xsaras. They illustrate the speed and reliability of the products Citroën gives its customers."
Marcus Gronholm, Peugeot, 4th: "There was nothing we could do today; the only thing that could happen is that we made a mistake and went off. So I thought it was best just to bring the car home and make sure of the points. The roads were very rough and extremely dusty. It's been a disappointing rally as we were leading for most of the first day and we would have had a chance to challenge for the win. Looking on the positive side, the performance of the car is better and this is what we have to concentrate on for the future."
Markko Martin, Peugeot eighth: "This has been a strange rally for us: we have had no real problems but we have struggled a bit to find the proper feeling in the car. On the whole our tyre choices have been fine and we have had no mechanical problems at all. We have been able to continue our record of finishing every rally so far this year, and with more time I hope to find a better feeling in the car."
Jean-Pierre Nicolas, Peugeot team manager: "The result does not quite tell the whole story, as this was our best rally since the start of the year in terms of pure performance. Marcus and the 307 WRC were fighting with Sebastien Loeb until a problem on leg two with a jubilee clip worth about two Euros. Now we have lost the lead of the constructors championship just as we pass the half-way point of the season. But there is still everything to play for. The difficult rallies are behind us, and we expect some strong performances at the next round of the championship, in Argentina."
David Lapworth, Subaru WRT Chief: "This has been a character building event for the whole team. It's been frustrating for Petter not to have a clean run against his rivals. After problems early on, it was difficult for him to fight back from his position. He's not really been able to show what he can do on these stages. It would be very easy to under-estimate Stéphane's performance here, as he doesn't have a great deal to show for all of his efforts. But his times on the latter stages were impressive, considering his position on the road, and if he continues to make progress like this he'll be a serious contender on gravel as well as asphalt."
Petter Solberg, Subaru WRT, ninth: "As you'd expect I'm disappointed with my result, it's not the one I was hoping for. In fact, I have been disappointed about my results on the last few rallies, that's for sure. But we have to put this aside and look forward to Argentina now. There are plenty of reasons to feel confident about the next rally; I know I can win it. We've reached the mid-point in the Championship and yes, I would have liked to have closed in on Seb, but it's certainly not over yet."
Final classification of the Acropolis Rally of Greece 2005
1. S. Loeb/D. Elena (Citroën Xsara) 4 h 12 min 53,7 s 2. T. Gardemeister/J. Honkanen (Ford Focus) + 1 min 36,2 s 3. C. Sainz/Marc Marti (Citroën Xsara) + 2 min 11,1 s 4. M. Grönholm/T. Rautiainen (Peugeot 307) + 2 min 56,4 s 5. M. Hirvonen/J. Lehtinen (Ford Focus) + 3 min 13,2 s 6. H. Rovanperä/R. Pietiläinen (Mitsubishi Lancer) + 3 min 44,4 s 7. G. Galli/G. D'Amore (Mitsubishi Lancer) + 5 min 19,6 s 8. M. Märtin/M. Park (Peugeot 307) + 5 min 37,5 s 9. P. Solberg/Ph. Mills (Subaru Impreza) + 6 min 03 s 10. X. Pons/C. del Barrio (Citroën Xsara) + 9 min 03,4 s FIA World Rally Championship after round 8 - Manufacturers
1. Citroën, 84 pts - 2. Peugeot, 79 points - 3. Ford, 57 pts - 4. Subaru, 47 pts - 5. Mitsubishi, 37 pts - 6. Skoda, 8 pts.
FIA World Rally Championship after round 8 - Drivers
1. S. Loeb, 65 pts - 2. P. Solberg, 42 points - 3. T. Gardemeister, 39 pts - 4. M. Märtin, 39 pts - 5. M. Grönholm, 37 pts - 6. H. Rovanperä, 16 pts - 7. M. Stohl, 11 pts - 8. C. Sainz, 11 pts - 9. R. Kresta, 10 pts - 10. H. Solberg, 9 pts - 11. G. Panizzi, 7 pts - 12. G. Galli, 6 pts - 13. F. Duval, 5 pts - 14. D. Carlsson, 4 pts - 15. A. Warmbold, 4 pts - 16. M. Hirvonen, 4 pts - 17. Ch. Atkinson, 2 pts - 18. J. Pykälistö, 1 pt.