x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Loeb stumped as he crashes out

The world champion Sebastien Loeb crashed out of World Rally Championship in Poland yesterday, leaving BP Ford Team Abu Dhabi driver Mikko Hirvonen leading the field and poised to take the lead in the driver's championship.

The world champion Sebastien Loeb crashed out of World Rally Championship in Poland yesterday, leaving BP Ford Team Abu Dhabi driver Mikko Hirvonen leading the field and poised to take the lead in the driver's championship. A comfortable win in Greece left Hirvonen in second place, trailing Loeb by just seven points. A win in Poland will allow the BP Ford driver to leap-frog the Frenchman with four rallies remaining.

Loeb and his co-driver Daniel Elena were uninjured in the accident, having crashed their Citroen into a concealed tree stump. It was their second crash in two events. With the lead of the championship within striking distance, Hirvonen said the retirement of his title rival has changed his strategy in Poland, with title ambitions now the priority. "I want 10 points from here and after Seb's accident I must think about the championship," said Hirvonen. "I want to drive safely, but flat out - if such a thing is possible.

"After I saw Seb's car I eased my pace because I didn't want to make the same mistake. The roads are damp and very, very fast. They're also soft in places so they may cut up during the second pass in the afternoon." It is unknown whether the five-times rally champion will feature again in Poland, leaving Loeb's Citroen Team's title aspirations in the balance after recent poor performances in Italy and Greece.

Hirvonen finished the opening day out in front and in the perfect position to capitalise on Loeb's mishap. Loeb's exit also meant promotion to second place for Hirvonen's BP Ford team-mate, Jari-Matti Latvala. With a second consecutive one-two on the cards, the lead drivers could have been forgiven for easing up in the afternoon session. Latvala, however, powered his way to a stage win to close the gap on his teammate to only 1.4sec. Hirvonen's response was swift, setting a pace 13 seconds quicker than the rest of the pack.

"It's been a fantastic day," said Hirvonen. "I've really enjoyed it. Even on the repeated stages the conditions weren't so bad. We've had a lot of fun."