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- Sebastien Loeb 5 time World Rally Champion Well Done!!
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Next rally: Repco Rally New Zealand (28-31 August)
Main Predicted Winner For Next Rally: Sebastien Loeb
1. Sebastien Loeb 86 pts
2. Mikko Hirvonen 78 pts
3. Dani Sordo 51 pts
4. Chris Atkinson 40 pts
5. Jari Matti Latvala 34 pts
6. Petter Solberg 32 pts
7. Henning Solberg 22 pts
8. Gigi Galli 17 pts
Citroen Total WRT 141 pts
BP Ultimate Abu Dhabi Ford World Rally Team 121 pts
Subaru World Rally Team 74 pts
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team 51 pts
Munchi`s Ford World Rally Team 22 pts
Suzuki World Rally Team 20 pts
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Sebastien Loeb took his 44th WRC victory this afternoon, winning Rally New Zealand by 17.5sec from his Citroen Total team-mate Dani Sordo who was second.
It was the dream result for Loeb and his team after a shaky start to the day, when Loeb dropped to fourth after a spin on the opening stage. At Sunday’s midpoint it looked like BP Ford Abu Dhabi drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala had the top two positions locked out, but on the penultimate stage the Ford team’s challenge crumbled, with Latvala retiring and Hirvonen losing 50 seconds.
Twelve months ago Loeb missed out on victory in New Zealand by 0.3sec - the slimmest losing margin in WRC history. But this year he completed the Mystery Creek Super Special with a comfortable lead to take his second New Zealand win. But at the finish Loeb said he was still surprised by how the day had turned out.
“This morning I had the spin and just wasn’t able to make up the gap to Mikko - I thought it was over and we’d lost the chance,” said Loeb “But then it all changed and we were leading again. But this was really a difficult rally, changing all the time, with some strategy coming in too. I needed to win for sure, and that’s very nice, but I’m not happy for what happened to Mikko because he was doing really well and it was a good battle. But okay; it’s a race and these things happen sometimes. ”
A maximum 10 points for Loeb moved him eight points clear at the top of the drivers' championship with four events remaining. Another eight points from Sordo eased Citroen further ahead in the manufacturers’ series too, twenty points clear of their nearest rivals Ford. “The result today was very important for the manufacturers’ championship but also for me for me in the drivers’ series,” said Sordo. “I’m also very happy because on gravel I’m getting quicker and quicker. I feel I’m making real progress.”
A desolate Hirvonen brought his bumper-less Focus across the finish line to claim the final podium place, 24sec adrift of Sordo’s time. “I was really confident before Whaanga Coast that we were going to win this rally but what could we do? - we had a slow puncture than that dropped us to third,” he said. “That’s how it is now. I’m not going to let this knock my confidence. I know we can win rallies. The season isn’t over yet so we just have to go flat out again on the next rallies.”
Latvala’s retirement meant Petter Solberg finished fourth for the Subaru World Rally Team. “I never thought I could get fourth after being tenth on the first day,” said Solberg. “But while I’m happy about the result, the thing is we are still not up there; we want to win, not get fourth. I’m sorry, but we’re not here for fun. We have to improve the speed.”
Urmo Aava was fifth, on an event which was a late addition to his 2008 programme with the PH sport Citroen team. “Coming here was a bonus and I’m happy we’ve made eth best use of it, he said. “I think we had a good speed - especially on Saturday - and we got a good position and some good points.”
Per-Gunnar Andersson and Toni Gardemeister were sixth and seventh respectively; recording the best ever WRC finish for the Suzuki World Rally Team. “It’s a great result for Suzuki,” said Andersson. “We’ve struggled with the handling a little bit, but we’ve shown good reliability here. We’ll take some good points in the championships and that makes the rest of the season easier.”
“It’s been a good weekend,” added Gardemeister. “Apart from our brake problem on Saturday the car has worked very well.”
Federico Villagra finished eighth, taking the last drivers’ championship point in his Munchi’s team Ford Focus RS. “It’s been a tough rally,” he said. “I struggled a lot with my braking throughout, but it’s a good result in the end.”
But the man with the biggest grin at the finish line was Villagra’s Munc
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BP Ford Abu Dhabi World rally Team driver Mikko Hirvonen holds the lead of Rally New Zealand after a fascinating first day of competition.
Hirvonen took the lead on the second stage and capitalised on a more advantageous road position than his title rival Sebastien Loeb to build a 9.4 sec lead over the Frenchman by the midday point. But Loeb was quicker in the afternoon and narrowed the gap to less than one second before collecting a 30-second penalty when his car had trouble starting before the penultimate stage.
Whether Loeb deliberately took the penalty or not remains unclear, but it added an unexpected twist to a day which many thought would end with Hirvonen deliberately dropping back to ensure a better road position than his rival on Saturday.
“I don’t know if something was wrong or whether Citroen were playing tactics, but okay, in the end there wasn’t much I could do about it,” said Hirvonen. “But I’ve had a good day and I’ve never had such a good rhythm on these roads before. Obviously being first on the road won’t be so easy tomorrow, but I’m sure it’s going to be okay. All I can do is try my best. People want to see the same sort of close battle as last year - well it looks like it’s going to happen.”
After struggling for grip as the first car through Friday’s stages Loeb acknowledged he would be in a better position on day two, but maintained his SS6 incident was purely due to a faulty starter motor. “For one time the regulations went in the right way to help me,” said Loeb. “Okay it’s not so bad because we are second on the road and it’s not good to be first. But we are 29 seconds back and that’s a big gap. So we will see how we get on. It’s a long day tomorrow.”
Third placed Dani Sordo said he was delighted to have ended the day in the final podium spot. “It means a fantastic road position for tomorrow,” he said. “But Latvala is close behind so I will try to hold my position. It won’t be easy but I will take some risks.”
Jari-Matti Latvala holds fourth overnight - just one-tenth of a second behind Sordo - but with Saturday’s road positions determined after SS6, he will be third on the road. The Finn had tried to drop behind Sordo on the penultimate stage, but miscalculated his pace by a fraction and ended up four-tenths ahead. “It would be better to be fourth on the road, but giving away time on a stage is not an easy thing to do,” he said. “You don’t want to lose too much, but you don’t want to go too early, you have to find the midpoint. Today we didn’t get it exactly right but we’ll know for the next time.”
Almost one minute behind Latvala in fifth is Francois Duval of the Stobart VK M-Sport team. “It’s my first time with this car on these tyres and so far it’s been really good,” said Duval. “Tomorrow I’ll try a softer set-up to try and find some more grip but it’s okay. Jari is quite far ahead now, but I’ll be watching out for Aava behind me.”
Estonian Aava lies sixth, 33sec adrift of Duval in his P-H Sport run Citroen C4 WRC. Behind him in seventh is Petter Solberg of the Subaru World Rally Team, while Suzuki’s P-G Andersson is eighth in the final points winning place
Day 1 Standings
2. Loeb +27.8
3. Sordo +30.0
4. Latvala +30.1
5. Duval +1:27.9
6. Aava +2:01.3
7. Solberg +2:25.8
8. PG Andersson +2:50.5
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Following Thursday’s shakedown, scrutineering and final preparations, crews are almost ready for Friday’s opening day of the competition.
The final pre-event activity will be a ceremonial start in the centre of Hamilton, during which Subaru World Rally Team driver Chris Atkinson will receive a traditional Maori welcome.
After the podium, cars will return to the Mystery Creek service area ready for an 0820hrs departure on Friday.
Detailed information on the entry list and itinerary, including maps of the stages, is now available in the Rallies section at wrc.com
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