x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Latvala's pain is Citroen's gain

The BP Ford Abu Dhabi team suffered double disappointment on the final day of the Wales Rally GB.

The Citreon team driver Sebastien Loeb comes from behind for his first win at the Wales Rally GB.
The Citreon team driver Sebastien Loeb comes from behind for his first win at the Wales Rally GB.

SWANSEA // The BP Ford Abu Dhabi team suffered double disappointment on the final day of the Wales Rally GB. Hopes of winning a third consecutive Manufacturers' Championship were virtually wiped out on Friday when Mikko Hirvonen overturned his car, losing almost five minutes in the process. Biting back the disappointment, the Abu Dhabi team at least had the satisfaction of seeing their No 2 driver, Jari-Matti Latvala, leading the rally going into yesterday's 19th and final stage.

But even a consolation rally win was stolen from them at the death when the Citroen driver, the Frenchman Sebastien Loeb, showed why he had already wrapped up the drivers' championship before coming to the Welsh Valleys by storming through to win in a time of 2hrs 43mins 19.6secs, 2.7 seconds in front of the Finn Latvala. It would have been closer had the organisers not removed a 10 second penalty against Loeb for a jump start on stage 18.

At first it was thought that he had got a flier but onboard camera footage showed that Loeb had started the stage at the correct time. The Abu Dhabi Ford Focus team needed to take first and second to stand any chance of holding off the Citroen team to retain the manufacturers' title, but that hope was all but diminished by as early as the first morning when the Finn Hirvonen, who eventually finished eighth, 5mins 28.8secs behind Loeb, rolled his Focus.

Citroen's second driver, Dani Sordo, of Spain, rubbed salt into Ford's open wounds when he finished the rally third in 2hrs 44mins 30.2secs. It was Loeb's first Welsh win, the 11th victory of the season and the 48th of his career and he said afterwards: "This one was incredible. The ice made conditions really tricky. With no gravel crews I didn't like it and I've not been happy all weekend. But today we had a good, good fight and it was exciting to fight with Jari-Matti.

"Finally we won and it's a very good feeling. Also the championship for Citroen it's really good news. With Dani third it's the perfect result for the team." Latvala was one of the first to offer his congratulations to Loeb at the finish. "The better man won today," he said. "I tried to go as fast as I could. I couldn't do any better." A delighted Sordo said. "It's a great result for the team." The UAE's top driver, Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi, finished his first full season for the BP Ford Abu Dhabi team by coming home in 16th place, not a bad position considering the conditions of ice, snow and rain over the three days were totally alien to him. His time of 2hrs 58mins 33.8secs was 15mins 14.2secs behind the winner.

The man who was given support from fans all the teams, the World Superbike champion Valentino Rossi, finished a very creditable 12th in his Stobart Ford Focus. Patrik Flodin took victory in the Production Car Championship by a comfortable margin of 1mins 42.1secs following the last stage retirement of his rival, Patrik Sandell. But while Flodin won therace it was Andreas Aigner who won the title. Second place overall was more than enough for the Austrian to overtake Juho Hanninen in the standings and clinch his first P-WRC title.

"It's fantastic, I'm so happy!" said the Mitsubishi driver. "This was a very, very difficult rally - you only have to look at the number of P-WRC crews at the finish to see that. We're happy to be here. Our target was top three and we've done what we needed to." @Email:cwhebell@thenational.ae