Four-in-a-row for Loeb, Elena and Citroen
Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and the Citroen Total World Rally Team extended their unbeaten run since the start of the 2009 World Rally Championship by securing their fourth win from four – and their 51st world class success – today in Portugal. Dani Sordo and Marc Marti were also on form in the Algarve where they notched up their second podium finish of the year to put Citroen further clear at the top of the provisional Manufacturers' standings.
Following two relatively long legs on Friday and Saturday, the third and final day of the 2009 Rally de Portugal was much shorter and featured two visits to a loop of two stages near Loule. It then finished in the same way as the event had started, with the closing super-special in the Estadio Algarve.
In spite of the handicap of running first on the road, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena kicked off Sunday's action with two fastest times: "We were in the same situation as we had been on Day 1. Even so, despite having to sweep a clearer line through the dust for Mikko [Hirvonen], we were a little bit faster than him. Yesterday, when he was having to do all the roadsweeping, we were much quicker. If you take all that into account, it suggests that we had the edge in identical conditions. That's a very promising pointer for the next few rallies, but we've still got the job in hand to finish off first…"
Dani Sordo and Marc Marti had to contend with the problem of hanging dust but were still third: "Today isn't much fun for us because we've got little to gain and potentially everything to lose! Even with the cars starting every two minutes, the dust just isn't clearing. We also suffered from dust getting in our C4 after the sill was slightly damaged by a stone. The sun was very low this morning, too, so we really weren't able to see much and I took special care not to make a mistake…"
After the 30-minute service halt, the two Citroen C4 WRC crews returned to the undulating Algarve hills for a second attempt at the same two stages. The overriding aim of Sebastien Loeb and Dani Sordo was to hold on to their respective positions, which saw them drive defensively, even if that meant dropping a handful of seconds. The two Citroen drivers were then the stars of the show on the final test in front of an enthusiastic, packed-house crowd at the Estadio Algarve where Sebastien and Dani respectively got the better of Mikko Hirvonen and Petter Solberg.
"Today's result takes our score to four wins from four rounds, which is the best start to a season we have ever made," remarked Sebastien Loeb after the podium ceremony. "As ever, it wasn't an easy weekend. We made a small error on Day 1 which forced us to push hard to make up for lost ground, but the second leg went perfectly for us and we were able to control from in front this morning. It's good that Ford chose not to play a tactical game on Friday afternoon. We preferred to play it straight on Saturday, too, and it's nice to have won that way."
Dani Sordo finished in third place and was happy to have mixed it with the front-runners over the three-day event: "As soon as it became clear that I wouldn't be able to catch Mikko today, I decided not to take any risks. I felt very comfortable with my car throughout the rally, and that's a good omen for the rounds which come next."
Day 1 : SS1 : Henning Solberg (Ford Focus) – SS2 and 3 : Jari-Matti Latvala (Ford Focus) – SS4 : Sebastien Loeb (Citroen C4) – SS5 : Mikko Hirvonen (Ford Focus) – SS6 : Dani Sordo (Citroen C4) – SS7 : Loeb. Day 2 : SS7 to 13 : Loeb. Day 3 : SS14 and 15 : Loeb – SS16 and 17 : Hirvonen – SS18 : H. Solberg. Best performers : Loeb, 10 fastest times – Hirvonen, 3 – Latvala and H. Solberg, 2 - Sordo, 1. Leaders : SS1 : H. Solberg – SS2 and 3 Latvala – SS4 : Sordo – SS5 to 7 : Hirvonen – SS8 to 18 : Loeb.
UNOFFICIAL FINAL LEADERBOARD
1. Loeb/Elena Citroen C4 3h53'13''1 2. Hirvonen/Lehtinen Ford Focus +24''3 3. Sordo/Marti Citroen C4 +1'45''4 4. P. Solberg/Mills Citroen Xsara +2'44''6 5. H. Solberg/Menkerud Ford Focus +5'46''3 6. Ostberg/Unnerud Subaru Impreza +6'20''8 7. Villagra/Perez Companc Ford Focus +12'59''5 8. Al Qassimi/Orr Ford Focus +18'21''7 9. Araujo/Ramalho Mitsubishi Lancer +22'18''5 10. Prokop/Tomanek Mitsubishi Lancer +23'25''6