2 NOVEMBER 16 motorsport-news.co.uk
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THE VOICE OF BRITISH MOTORSPORT ISSUE JA2796
“This is the start of something good”
P8 Hamilton says Abu Dhabi win will kick-start form
SILVERSTONE LINKED TO NEW INVESTOR
British GP’s home on verge of huge Qatari takeover
LATVALA PLEDGES HIS WRC FUTURE TO M-SPORT
Finn will stay loyal to team, even if Ford doesn’t
LOEB WRAPS UP EIGHTH STRAIGHT
He didn’t win or finish, but Loeb still took the title
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix report
Historic race and rally news
WRC Report:Wales Rally GB
Report:Rally GB National
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Frenchman tipped for longer reign
LOEB BACKED TO CONTINUE WRC
ByDanMcCalla Citroën team boss Olivier Quesnel has backed Sébastien Loeb to complete a decade of unbroken domination of the World Rally Championship, after the Frenchman won his eighth successive title on Wales Rally GB at the weekend.
The 37-year-old continued his winning streak with Citroën that started in 2004, and Quesnel says there is no reason that Loeb’s run will come to an end anytime soon: “At the end, if we can have nine, ten, 11, 12, I don’t mind – our target is still to win.”
Hir vo nen wa s ru led out after an accident
Loeb handles the pressure Loeb officially became champion on Friday evening inWales when it was confirmed that title rival Mikko Hirvonen had retired from the event due to engine damage sustained in a crash earlier that day. It meant that Loeb’s own retirement, caused when he collided with a spectator’s car on a road section on Sunday, had no impact on his success.
The title victory has come at the end of what has been a testing year for the Alsatian. After coming through in-fighting and team orders disputes with Citroën stablemate Sébastien Ogier, Loeb then had his points lead wiped out by the consistent Hirvonen before winning in Spain to rebuild a decisive eight-point lead.
Loeb said at the finish in Cardiff on Sunday that he feels proud to have come through such a difficult season as champion, and to beat Michael Schumacher’s record to become the most successful driver in major FIA championships.
“For sure I feel very happy. It’s a new record and until this week it wasMichael Schumacher with seven and nowweare eight. I know it’s unfair to compare but everyone is speaking about it. I amproud of it and it’s very special and it was also a special season. It was a really difficult one and there were a lot of battles everywhere.
“With every rally we had to fight against a rival, either Mikko or Ogier, sometimes Jari-Matti as well. We lost a lot of points and we had to start again from zero with two rallies to go. It is a proud moment to be here. It was big pressure –we had to give everything all the time.”
Loeb said that he went into Rally GBunder no assumptions that he would scoop his eighth consecutive crown and that Hirvonen was applying intense pressure until the accident, with the pair trading times and the lead over the first six stages of the rally: “I never believed that I would win the title one time, not eight. Even on Friday morning, who could knowwhat would happen? The battle was so close and Mikko was so fast, that nothing was done, so even that morning I couldn’t believe that I would be eight-time world champion.”
Citroën has staunchly stood by its varying team orders at each event, with both Ogier and Loeb being told to hold station behind each other at different events to ensure the French marque secured the manufacturers’ crown. This caused some bad feeling with the two drivers, but Quesnel insists that the fact his team claimed another title double this year – its fourth in succession – vindicates its policy.
“This title feels just as good as all the others,” Quesnel told Motorsport News. “You can’t win without any problems, and you just have to look at what has happened to the other team [Ford]. They don’t have any problems and they don’t win anything. I prefer to have what I have and get all the titles for four years in a row. So I would say that I don’t mind. At the end, Malcolm [Wilson] would have been pleased to be in myplace.”
Hirvonen rues early results Mikko Hirvonen’s retirement, which camewhen he perforated the radiator in a crash on SS7 and lost all the water from his Ford Fiesta RS WRC,meant he faced title defeat at Rally GB for the second time in three seasons. But rather than blame his mistake on the Dyfnant forest, Hirvonen said that his failure wasmore down to the Blue Oval’s form earlier in the season, when Ford was right on a par with Citroën andmade a series of errors that allowed Citroën drivers to win eight rallies in succession.
“It’s a big disappointment as the team worked really hard through the whole year to get us into the position that we could fight at the last round,” said the 31-year-old Finn in the aftermath of the crash. “We fought but it’s a shame it ended like this. I think this year was tough. For sure the last two Tarmac rallies I was lost but on gravel I was really good. The first couple of rallies we should have been stronger and won a couple more times but we got this far which was good. It wasn’t a complete disaster.” Hirvonen was also keen to recognise the challenge that Loeb’s WRCrivals face in toppling the champion, and that everything has to be perfect in order to beat the Frenchman: “Conditions [on Rally GB]were difficult and the change of grip levels was difficult, more than in previous years. But you need only a small slip like that and it can easily catch you out. Manypeople have been trying to work out how to beat Sébastien for eight years now, so maybe some day wewill find it. The team has been absolutely fantastic all season, and especially JariMatti. It’s been amazing howwe’ve been working together.”
Team boss Malcolm Wilson expressed his disappointment at losing out on the title, but was full of praise for the way in which the Cumbrian team hauled itself back into the title race. Hirvonen was 36 points behind Loeb with four rallies of the season remaining, but a concerted push by the Ford team helped him compete for the crown at the last round.
“It’s a huge disappointment, because we’ve come back from the situation three months ago when we didn’t have a chance, fought our way back into position,” said Wilson. “But to lose it while Mikko was competitive against Sébastien and was ahead is disappointing. It’s been a great team effort to even get Mikko into this position, and Jari has given Mikko some great help over the last three rallies before GB. We’ve been in worse positions than this year, where we’ve gone into the final event in position to win the championship. It hasn’t worked out, but three months ago weweren’t even in with a shout at all.”