Sebastien Loeb has joined World Rally Championship powered by Nokia legends Miki Biasion, Walter Rohrl and Carlos Sainz by becoming a three-time winner of the Acropolis Rally following his standout triumph in Loutraki this afternoon.
Piloting a Citroen DS3 WRC alongside co-driver Daniel Elena, Loeb performed faultlessly to secure his 71st career victory after fending off a host of rivals. And by claiming three bonus points for winning the event-closing Power Stage, Loeb’s lead of the WRC drivers’ standings increases to 30 points with seven rounds remaining.
“This rally was so long and difficult,” said Loeb, who survived a scare on stage 20 when he stopped to change a left-rear puncture after three kilometres. “We had some fortune in the morning, but in general we had to fight really hard. It was really good. I tried to always keep my rhythm and do what I felt. I tried to manage the car and the tyres. I believe that everybody has done a great rally, Mikko, Petter and Jari-Matti.”
Petter Solberg started Sunday’s five stages trailing Loeb by 10.2s only to crash out on the opening test in his Ford Fiesta RS WRC. The Norwegian’s misfortune - he tore a rear wheel off his car after striking a tree - promoted Loeb’s team-mate Mikko Hirvonen up to second with Jari-Matti Latvala securing the final podium place in third. The Finn marked his return from injury by claiming 10 fastest stage times. “At least after a long time I’m back on the podium,” he said.
Behind Latvala, Mads Ostberg moved into third overall in the WRC standings by finishing fourth. Martin Prokop and Thierry Neuville also continued their strong scoring runs in fifth and sixth respectively.
Sebastien Ogier took seventh for Volkswagen Motorsport although team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen failed to finish after damaging his car’s suspension on Sunday’s opener.
Yazeed Al-Rajhi impressed by bringing his Fiesta Regional Rally Car home in eighth overall, followed by Ott Tanak and MINI driver Abdulaziz Alkuwari, who, like Al-Rajhi, scored in the world championship for the first time.
Sunday PWRC wrap:
Valeriy Gorban hit back from the frustration of dropping out of the lead on Friday afternoon - when a double suspension damper failure slowed his Mitsubishi Lancer - to claim his maiden victory in the Production Car World Rally Championship.
Gorban, from Ukraine, started the final day more than four and a half minutes behind overnight leader Nicolas Fuchs. But when Fuchs failed to get beyond the end of stage 20 after the rear suspension on his Symtech Racing Subaru Impreza broke, Gorban was able to triumph for Mentos Ascania Racing.
“This was our first win in PWRC and it is a great result which I didn’t expect after the problems on Friday,” said Gorban. “It was a really interesting rally and a difficult rally for the car but we are really sad for Nicolas when he retired because we had really close stage times.”
Subhan Aksa marked his first event with new co-driver Jeff Judd by finishing second after overcoming a handful of spins and overshoots. “I feel excellent with the result,” said the Indonesian driver. “We have a very good car with no problems at all.”
Ricardo Trivino overcame myriad technical and mechanical problems to claim the final podium spot with fellow Mexican Benito Guerra recovering from his day-one retirement to finish fourth. Although his run of two consecutive victories is over, Guerra holds a 22-point lead in the PWRC standings.
“After the problems on Friday I am happy I got the points because you never know when you are going to need them,” said Guerra.
Lorenzo Bertelli scored a career-best fifth on his first run in a Subaru Impreza following several early delays.
With an engine sensor fault fixed on her Ford Fiesta ST, Briton Louise Cook was able to restart on the final morning to claim sixth overall and top honours in the FIA Production Car Cup for Drivers of 2WD Cars.
Next Round 7: Brother Rally New Zealand 21-24 June
For rally drivers, New Zealand comes very close to rallying nirvana. The sweeping, rollercoaster roads and lush green scenery will look very familiar to anybody who has seen The Lord of the Rings, filmed entirely on location in New Zealand. There is a magical atmosphere to the whole country and its return to the World Rally Championship calendar in 2012 following a one-year absence is keenly anticipated.
The stages consist mainly of fast and cambered smooth gravel roads in spectacular valleys amid breath-taking scenery, while some asphalt sections will feature on the competitive route.
Official Website: rallynz.org.nz/