Lightning the Loeb; Him Again: Sebastien Loeb Storms to Victory in His Citroen C4 and with Co-Driver Daniel Elena (Right)

Daily Mail (London), February 2, 2009 | Go to article overview

Lightning the Loeb; Him Again: Sebastien Loeb Storms to Victory in His Citroen C4 and with Co-Driver Daniel Elena (Right)


Byline: SAMMY HAMILL

THE rally history books will record it as a routine 48th world championship victory for Sebastien Loeb.

The French maestro cruised back into Sligo yesterday afternoon in his still-pristine Citroen C4 to win Rally Ireland, his Spanish team-mate Dani Sordo a respectful one-and-a-half minutes behind.

In 2007, when Ireland first hosted the world championship, the result was exactly the same: a Citroen one-two which set up Loeb for his fourth world title in a row.

But this one was different, incessant rain for two days turning the Irish roads into rivers and creating an extreme game of chance for many. Even the mood of the usually imperturbable Loeb swung he was angered by regulations which only allowed him to chose between a 'control' tarmac tyre and 'emergency' tyre brought in case of snow.

That turned out to be the only tyre that could cope with the water, although Loeb didn't know that until he had surfed his way through the mini-lakes of Glenboy on Friday morning. He was only seventh fastest, 42 seconds off the lead and outpaced by those who had opted for the 'snow' tyre. 'The tyre regulations make it almost impossible to drive in these conditions,' he complained. 'I was not flat on the throttle once I just kept it in fourth or fifth gear. I didn't want to take any risks.' Being Loeb, he simply moved into attack mode and by the end of the first day, equipped with the right rubber, he led by over 40 seconds.

His mood lightened, and even a couple of potentially disastrous moments on days two and three were reflected on with a wry smile.

On Stage 12, Sloughan Glen, the Citroen crested a brow and hit standing water, sending it sliding across the grass and clogging a rear wheel with mud. There might have been a hedge or a tree in the way but there wasn't and Loeb shrugged it off.

Even with the finish in sight, on the penultimate Donegal Bay stage, Loeb might just have lost it with a faint lapse in concentration. 'I went wide again!' he laughed. 'The stage was incredible very narrow, almost no room for the car. It was so slippery, the back went wide and we stayed sideways for about 60 metres. We kept going though, and didn't lose much time.' By then he could afford to be slow, the faithful Sordo pacing himself in second place immaculately. Overshadowed by Loeb as always, the Spaniard barely put a wheel off line as he kept the Ford threat at bay.

That threat had looked ominous early on when Jari-Matti Latvala stormed through the first stage to leave Loeb trailing by more than 40 seconds and new boy Urmo Aava slotted into second. But by the end of day one they had both been in ditches.

It was left to the reliable Mikko Hirvonen to bring Ford third place, the Finn jettisoning his promises to be 'a little more crazy' to calmly steer on his way onto the podium and six world championship points. …

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