2 SEPTEMBER 14 2011 motorsport-news.co.uk
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THE VOICE OF BRITISH MOTORSPORT ISSUE JA2787
“Our goal is to attack at every grand prix”
P8 Christian Horner promises no let up from Red Bull
THE FUTURE OF FORMULA FORD
Ford says its new single-seater design can go global
LOTUS REVEALS ITS RALLYING CONCEPT
British marque makes shock return to rallying
SURTEES: HOW TO FIX
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Ex-world champion goes back to basics with MN
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By DanMcCalla This year’s World Rally Championship will come down to a head-to-head fight between Sébastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen, after Citroën confirmed that it expects Sébastien Ogier to play second fiddle to Loeb for the remaining three rounds of the season. Ogier had a golden opportunity to revive his own title bid when Loeb rolled out of the opening leg of Rally Australia on the fourth stage last Friday. But Ogier crashed himself two stages later. He restarted and got himself back into the points, but Citroën ordered him to deliberately drop ten minutes later in the rally to allow Loeb to score one drivers’ point for tenth place.
to opportunity golden a had Ogier ordered Citroën but points, the into
The dramatic rally for Citroën has allowed Hirvonen to close to within 15 points of Loeb in the standings, after Ford made Jari-Matti Latvala step aside and hand the rally win to his Finnish compatriot.
Ogier drops out Having driven past the stricken Loeb on SS4 in Australia, Ogier was in a perfect position to wipe out his rival’s points lead, and would have moved level with the seven-time world champion with a victory. But his shunt into a tree on the sixth stage of the event meant he has spurned one of the best chances he will get to close the gap in the remaining rounds
The 27-year-old was, however, able to get himself back into the overall points thanks to a combination of a small field and high attrition. Ogier had got to ninth before the team ordered him to stop for ten minutes on the penultimate stage to allow Loeb into the top ten to score one drivers’ point.
Citroën team manager Sven Smeets confirmed to Motorsport News that Ogier, who is now 29 points behind Loeb and third in the championship, is expected to help Loeb’s cause as well as galvanise Citroën’s challenge for the manufacturers’ crown. He also said that team director Olivier Quesnel played a part in the decision to delay Ogier, despite the fact that Quesnel was more than 10,000 miles away at Silverstone running Peugeot’s Intercontinental Le Mans Cup team.
“We did a calculation that with Hirvonen being our most dangerous opponent for the next three events to the championship leader Sébastien Loeb, that he should try to take the maximum points possible and give him one point more,” Smeets said. “Ford have taken a lot of points for the brand here, and from a 91-point lead we are down to 62, and so Ogier will now start to help us to get that manufacturers’ title.
“The decision was made when we saw what was going to happen with Ford as it was very clear as Malcolm said that he was going to make a change to give Mikko a chance for the drivers’ title. We had time to consider it, and because neither [Ford privateers] Henning Solberg nor Evgeny Novikov were around us as they had retired, it had no impact on the makes’ points. I kept in contact with Olivier at Silverstone, so it was a decision
Fo rd ’s men Hir vo nen (left) and Latv ala we re ab le to capitalise
Xavier Olivier, between made made between Olivier, Xavier [Mestelan-Pinon, team chief designer] and myself.” Ogier’s frustration at the move was plain as he refused to speak to the assembled media at the rally finish on Sunday evening. Speaking earlier in the rally in the wake of his crash, he made clear his irritation at losing his chance to fight for the drivers’ crown: “What is there to say? There is nothing more to say. I just know that I lost the chance to win the rally.”
Mikko rejoins race Hirvonen’s victory – his first since Rally Sweden at the start of the season – has given his title charge fresh impetus after Citroën’s run of eight consecutive victories had slowly put him out of the picture over the summer. The task facing Hirvonen is tough, because the next two rounds in France and Spain take place primarily on Loeb’s favoured Tarmac surface. The one remaining gravel round is Rally GB in November.
Ford’s pace on Tarmac on Rally Germany last month was encouraging, giving Hirvonen hope of challenging Loeb on his home turf in France, but the Finn insists that Ford will have to put in the extra work to make that challenge a certainty.
“This definitely brings things a lot closer but of course it’s two Tarmac rallies and only one on gravel, so we need to work really hard now to fight against Citroën in France and Spain,” said Hirvonen. “We are planning to do it, so this will boost the whole team to find more speed so that we’re able to fight.” Hirvonen could have been even closer to Loeb had the world champion not managed to recover four points from a difficult weekend. As well as picking up one point from Citroën’s team order, Loeb also bagged another three by winning the Power Stage. They are points that Loeb believes will be critical as the championship reaches its climax.
“I feel that for sure I ammore under pressure from Mikko than before and so for that the team decided to make this strategy,” said Loeb. “It’s also for that reason that I tried really hard in the Power Stage to keep [Hirvonen] behind. When the crash happened on Friday we were in a difficult situation so four points is not so bad.”
Citroën recognises the pressure that Hirvonen can bring to bear on its that says Smeets and Loeb,
Loeb, and Smeets says that its fraught weekend in Australia has destroyed the French marque’s safety net: “In the drivers’ points, it’s becoming a real championship again because Mikko is going to come very close again,” he said. “There’s no buffer there any more so we can’t make any mistakes.”
Makes fight tightens Ford’s one-two finish – its first since Rally Greece in 2009 – has helped it make big inroads into Citroën’s advantage in the makes’ championship, but that headway was limited by Citroën being able to restart both Loeb and Ogier in a rally of attrition. As a result, Citroën managed to score 14 points compared to Ford’s 43, and maintained its gap at 62 points. Smeets said that picking up those extra points was both unexpected and crucial.
“On Friday we had two cars completely out on zero, so to get 14 manufacturer points is not too bad,” said the Belgian. “We didn’t expect that many, because we needed some help from some other cars retiring or losing a lot of time, and Novikov retiring on Sunday morning gave us four points that we never thought we’d take. We have a good lead in the manufacturers’ points, as we’re more than one maximum score ahead.” Despite making up considerable ground, Wilson doesn’t believe that Ford will be able to catch Citroën in the makes race over the final three rounds, and that Hirvonen now represents the Blue Oval’s best chance of a world title this season.
“The manufacturers’ title is going to be very difficult, but at least it puts Mikko back into the drivers’ championship,” said Wilson. “Mikko is the one who has the chance to win the drivers’ championship so we have to give him every possible opportunity.” Wilson added that picking up Ford’s first win on gravel since Rally Finland in July last year would act as a huge confidence boost to everyone at M-Sport’s base in Cumbria.
“There’s nothing like the result that we’ve had here to give the guys some confidence, so that in itself is a big plus,” he said. “I do feel some relief, and I’m pleased for everyone in the team, because we’ve had a difficult time. We’ve been very close to a lot of victories which haven’t come off, so it’s a great boost for the team at a crucial point in the season.” ■ Classified advertising: 0208 267 5355
motorsport-news.co.uk SEPTEMBER 14 2011 3
Photos: World Rally Pics and mcklein-imagedatabase.com
French make puts its weight behind Loeb’s title fight with Ford’s Finn
CITROEN’S DOUBLE DISASTER PUTS HIRVONEN IN TITLE HUNT
FOUR ST AG E FOUR ST AG E , BR OOKLAN A BR OOKLAN A
OUT CRASHES LOEB OUT CRASHES LOEB
Ser ies dominator Sé bastien Loe b c ra shed out ear ly on in the ev ent
CHASING SEBASTIEN LOEB
SHIPMANS SIX, ST AG E SHIPMANS SIX, ST AG E OUT CRASHES OGIER OUT CRASHES OGIER SHIPMANS SIX, ST AG E OUT CRASHES OGIER SHIPMANS SIX, ST AG E SHIPMANS SIX, ST AG E OUT CRASHES OGIER SHIPMANS SIX, ST AG E OUT CRASHES OGIER SHIPMANS SIX, ST AG E SHIPMANS SIX, ST AG E SHIPMANS SIX, ST AG E OUT CRASHES OGIER SHIPMANS SIX, ST AG E
accident ow n his with miser y Citr oën compounded Ogier Sé bastien
Sé bastien Ogier compounded Citr oën miser y w ith his ow n a ccident
This graph shows the standing of Sébastien Ogier and Mikko Hirvonen in this year’s drivers’ championship relative to points leader Sébastien Loeb. While Loeb has been able to maintain a decent gap on both drivers through the summer, his early crash in Australia has destroyed the safety net that he had built up.
INTS AHEAD/BEHIND LOEB
25 20 15 10 5 0 -5 -10 -15 -20 -25 -30 -35 -40
POINTS AHEAD AND BEHIND LOEB
HOW FORD STRUCK BACK ON RALLY AUSTRALIA, PAGE 28