x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Hirvonen in pole position

The directors of the two leading constructors expect the battle for the WRC drivers' title to go down to the wire after a dramatic finish to Rally Australia.

KINGSCLIFF // The directors of the two leading constructors expect the battle for the World Rally Championship (WRC) drivers' title to go down to the wire after a dramatic finish to Rally Australia. Mikko Hirvonen now leads Sebastien Loeb, the French champion, by five points after the Citroen driver was stripped of his win last night. Anti-roll bar links on the three Citroen cars were too long, with the drivers all incurring one-minute penalties.

It meant Hirvonen, who finished 25 seconds behind Loeb, won the rally. It could have had a major impact on the title: Loeb would have closed the gap to one point had the result stood. Citroen have said they will not appeal against the penalties. With only the Spanish and British legs of the series to come, the championship is poised to throw up a thrilling finish in Wales on October 25. Loeb's prowess on asphalt, a trait shared by teammate Dani Sordo, makes Citroen the favourites on the sealed tarmac tests of Rally Spain.

The only way the BP Ford Abu Dhabi driver Hirvonen can avoid a Welsh valleys showdown is if he triumphs in Catalonia and Loeb fails to finish. Olivier Quesnel, in only his second campaign as Citroen's WRC team boss, is confident that will not happen. "Spain will be tarmac and it should be easier for us," he said. "Only a big problem for Sebastien would end the drivers' race and I hope it won't happen. It's still complicated."

In the manufacturers' tussle, Citroen hold a 13 point lead over Ford and remain favourites to retain the title. "We're confident for the manufacturers'. The objective in Spain is a one-two. I do not know what will happen but that is the objective," said Quesnel. Malcolm Wilson, the Ford boss, also expects the championship to be decided in the final race. "Whatever happens, even if Mikko doesn't finish in Spain, it will still go to the final rally," he said.

"It's great to leave still leading the drivers' championships, but the manufacturers' is a big task "We have a lot of work to do and we have a big test planned - we need to make improvements." emegson@thenational.ae Race report, s6