April 10, 2006 Citroen’s World Champion, Sebastien Loeb has extended his lead in the 2006 World Rally Championship after another commanding win, notching up his 23rd WRC win at the weekend in the French round, the Rally of Corsica, with Loeb joined on the podium by fellow Citroen driver Dani Sordo. What makes the result even more remarkable is the fact that Citroen is dominating the 2006 World Rally Championship with a two year old car, built for the previous rule regime and modified for the ’06 season, while its rivals are running their latest designs. Second in the event and now a clear second in the title chase, BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen claimed their fourth podium finish in five rallies by finishing second on the Rallye de France Tour de Corse.
To maintain this level of competitiveness means that the Citroen team and Loeb have to be even better prepared than ever.
“In the last round in Spain, my choice of set-up at the start of the rally was hardly ideal and then Marcus hit problems,” explain Loeb after yet another champagne result. “This time we both had a clean run. The Citroen Xsara and its BFGoodrich tyres were extremely competitive, the team was faultless and we were able to bring home a victory that was extremely important to us - in Corsica, in front of all our fans, on an event I love, which is the Rally de France!”
“In the short term, this is a valuable win as it gives me a lead of more than 10 points in the drivers’ championship. This means I have some breathing space, which is useful as the gravel rallies coming up will be extremely tough. Looking further ahead, this 23rd win takes me close to Carlos Sainz’s all-time rally win record – which is obviously a big thing for me!”
Loeb’s co-driver, Daniel Elena, is even closer to his own world record. The Corsica win is now just one win away from matching the all-time co-driver WRC record of Luis Moya.
Xevi Pons and Carlos Del Barrio were also at the forefront, but less often than their team mates. Some minor brake problems on Friday and a small ‘off’ on Saturday did not entirely help the crew regain their confidence, which had taken a bit of a knock in Catalunya.
“After two retirements, it was vital for me to finish the rally,” said the Spaniard. “Notwithstanding the fact that the potential of the Xsara on asphalt is capable of targeting some big points in the manufacturers’ championship. When I realised that I would not be able to catch Alex Bengué, I concentrated on the five points that I would definitely be able to score for the team.”
For a rent-a-rally driver, Dani Sordo, put in another remarkable performance with his second podium in just three events in the WRC, clearly laying his claim as the successor to fellow Spaniard Carlos Sainz.
Unflustered by an electronic problem that held him back on Friday morning, the reigning Junior World Champion rose perfectly to the challenge. By finishing third he secures another podium, having set another two fastest times.
“Losing some time at the start of the rally gave us a certain advantage, as it meant that we needed to push hard from the beginning,” said Dani. “We enjoyed ourselves from start to finish, in a fantastic fight with Alex Bengué and then Mikko Hirvonen. Now it’s back to school again on gravel. In Argentina, our goal will be to learn!”
For Marc Van Dalen and Jean-Pierre Mondron, the bosses of Kronos Racing, the dream continues.
“To take three wins in three rallies is fantastic,” said Marc. “To have three cars in the top six is also means a lot to us, as it underlines the quality of our team’s work. Each one of our crews has performed faultlessly. Seb remains the king on asphalt, Dani confirmed what we all knew anyway and Xevi has brought us vital manufacturer points, which enables us to maintain the lead of the championship. It’s been a perfect weekend!”
Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen finished fourth in a BP Ultimate and Castrol-branded Focus RS to secure their best result of the season on this fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship. The double points haul strengthens BP-Ford's grip on second in the manufacturers' championship and the team lays just three points from the lead.
The rally, celebrating its 50th anniversary, is regarded as the ultimate asphalt event in the series. Twelve speed tests in the craggy mountains covering 355.16km provided a tough challenge. The indifferent weather is so often a key factor here as it influences tyre selection, but three days of sunshine ensured no difficulties this year for the BP-Ford and BFGoodrich engineers.
Grönholm started the final leg in a comfortable second, with no chance of hunting down overnight leader Sébastien Loeb and under no pressure from behind. The 38-year-old Finn took the opportunity to try a few modifications to his car's centre differential settings and was fastest over the final two tests, to take his total for the rally to three special stage victories.
"Second place is a good, solid result and while a driver is never totally happy with second, I am pleased with the eight points it brings," he said. "I didn't have the chance to win here against Loeb. I think I can beat him on asphalt but I just don't know where or when. I didn't have enough experience of the new Focus in competition on asphalt to match him. It's the first time in Corsica with the car and we haven't tested on roads like this so we're still learning. I felt something was missing but I don't know what that was. But the team is only three points from the championship lead and that puts us in a strong position going back to three gravel events."
Hirvonen began the day in fourth, embroiled in a fierce battle with Dani Sordo for the final podium place. The 25-year-old Finn reduced the margin to just 0.4sec on the opening stage but the Spaniard retaliated to increase it to 7.7sec at the midpoint of the leg. Hirvonen closed in to 5.2sec on the penultimate stage but could not match Sordo on the final test and they ended 10.5sec apart.
"I enjoyed the fight with Dani," he said. "Third would have been great but I'm lucky not to be halfway down a mountain. About 8.5km after the start of the last stage I slide wide in a corner onto some gravel. The car was totally off the road and I thought we would tumble over the edge. Thankfully we didn't and I eased off after that. I drove to the maximum until then and it was fantastic, but I had to think about the manufacturer points as well. It was like driving on a knife but I had a great rhythm and feeling with the car."
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson was satisfied with the team's points haul. "It keeps us in contention, especially with rallies coming up that suit our car and drivers. I'm delighted that Mikko scored good points that will give him a better start position for the gravel events to come. Apart from Citroen, we were the only other team to set fastest stage times and that pleases me," he said.
Ford TeamRS director Jost Capito said: "Three stage wins for Marcus and one for Mikko emphasises that the car is competitive on asphalt. We have more still to come from the Focus RS and I think we will have improved further by the time the next asphalt rally comes around in Germany in August."
The championship moves to South America later this month for BP-Ford's second long haul event of the season. Rally Argentina (27 - 30 April) marks a return to gravel and is based in Cordoba.
1. Sebastien Loeb Kronos Citroen Xsara WRC 06 3hours 43mins 05.4secs 2. Marcus Gronholm BP Ford Focus RS WRC 06 +00mins 29.0secs 3. Daniel Sordo Kronos Citroen Xsara WRC +01mins 48.7secs 4. Mikko Hirvonen BP Ford Focus RS WRC 06 +01mins 59.2secs 5. Alex Bengue Peugeot 307 WRC +02mins 47.7secs 6. Xavier Pons Kronos Citroen Xsara WRC 06 +03mins 10.2secs 7. Manfred Stohl OMV Peugeot Norway 307 WRC +05mins 01.3secs 8. Stephane Sarrazin Subaru WRT Impreza WRC 2006 +05mins 21.9secs 9. Gigi Galli Pirelli Bozian Peugeot 307 WRC +05mins 42.5secs 10. Jan Koecky Czech RT Skoda Fabia WRC +06mins 11.4secs 11. Petter Solberg Subaru WRT Impreza WRC 2006 +06mins 40.5secs 12. Harri Rovanpera Red Bull Skoda Fabia WRC 06 +13mins 12.3secs 13. Chris Atkinson Subaru WRT Impreza WRC 2005 +14mins 57.1secs
2006 World Rally Championship, Drivers
1. Sebastien Loeb Kronos Citroen Xsara WRC 06 46 points 2. Marcus Gronholm BP Ford Focus RS WRC 06 35 points 3. Daniel Sordo Kronos Citroen Xsara WRC 20 points 4. Manfred Stohl OMV Peugeot Norway 307 WRC 13 points 5. Petter Solberg Subaru WRT Impreza WRC 2006 10 points 6. Alex Bengue Peugeot 307 WRC 9 points 7. Mikko Hirvonen BP Ford Focus RS WRC 06 7 points 8. Toni Gardemeister Astra Peugeot 307 6 points = Daniel Carlsson Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 6 points = Stephane Sarrazin Subaru Impreza WRC 2006 6 points 11. Gigi Galli Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 5 points = Henning Solberg OMV Peugeot Norway 307 WRC 5 points = Chris Atkinson Subaru WRT Impreza WRC 2006 5 points = Xavier Pons Kronos Citroen Xsara WRC 06 5 points 15. Thomas Radstrom Subaru S10 WRC 4 points = Jan Kopecky Czech RT Skoda Fabia WRC 4 points 17. Kosti Katajamaki Stobart VK Ford Focus WRC 05 3 points = Gareth MacHale Ford Focus RS WRC 05 3 points = Francois Duval First Skoda Fabia WRC 3 points
2006 World Rally Championship, Manufacturers
1. Kronos Total Citroen WRT 59 points 2. BP Ford 56 points 3. Subaru WRT 38 points 4. OMV Peugeot Norway WRT 21 points 5. Red Bull Skoda 11 points 6. Stobart VK Ford WRT 10 points