Citroen Racing’s Sebastien Loeb with co-driver Daniel Elena claimed a surprise win in FIA World Rally Championship’s Rally Spain.
It was a decent start from Loeb in his third and final rally of the 2018 season as he was fourth at the end of the Friday run, only 0.5s behind M-Sport Ford Fiesta’s Elfyn Evans (co-driver Daniel Barritt).
The Frenchman faced understeer issues all day long but recovered in the second half for a Top 4 finish. He improved further to third by the end of Saturday’s running with a SS12 win, putting himself in a strong contention to win the rally.
The nine-time champion then had a perfect start to Sunday’s run as a SS15 win earned him the lead of the rally which he was able to extend upon with a SS16 victory. It was then seeing the rally through as Loeb won in Spain – his career’s 79th win and first since 2013.
Despite not competing full-time in the championship, the 44-years-old veteran showed supreme consistency while staying out of trouble to complete a famous win for the first time in five years – much like Kimi Raikkonen’s Formula 1 win last weekend.
A second place for M-Sport Ford Fiesta’s Sebastien Ogier (co-driver Julien Ingrassia) was enough to help the Frenchman move ahead of title rival Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville (co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul) in the drivers’ championship.
Ogier had a difficult Friday to be only seventh despite starting the rally with a win in SS1. But he picked up his pace in the asphalt running on Saturday in slippery conditions to move up to second in the overall standings ahead of Loeb.
It was then keeping his composure to finish second, only 2.9s behind his fellow countryman after a win in SS16. The second place gave Ogier (204) three points advantage over Neuville (201) who slipped to fourth after the Power Stage.
The Belgian also had a bad Friday where he was only ninth but recovered to fifth on Saturday after winning SS11 and SS13 respectively and was running third until the penultimate stage behind Ogier – although only 2.0s ahead of Evans.
Neuville’s worst nightmare came true in the Power Stage when he finished 2.5s down on Evans which meant the British driver took the final podium spot by 0.5s – thereby demoting Neuville to fourth which cost him the points lead to Ogier.
The title fight moves to the final rally in Australia between the two with Toyota’s Ott Tanak (co-driver Martin Jarveoja) still in contention but with a slim chance after finishing sixth in Spain behind Hyundai’s Dani Sordo (co-driver Carlos del Barrio).
The Estonian started the rally in the best way possible by leading at the end of Friday running with win in SS2. His hopes of a win in Spain was dashed after a puncture in SS10 put him at the fag end of the Top 10.
The Estonian could only recover to eighth despite SS9 and SS14 on Saturday while even a Power Stage win couldn’t help to gain more places than sixth as Sordo put himself in a good position after a consistent run and a win in SS5.
Like Tanak, his two teammates Esapekka Lappi (co-driver Janne Ferm) and Latvala did not have a great run in the rally as well as, finishing seventh and eighth respectively. Latvala though was having a solid run after heading the way at the end of Saturday.
The Finn won SS3, SS6, SS7 and SS10 to put himself in a good position but a wheel damage at the start of Sunday’s running dropped him to the back of the WRC’s leading pack to eventually finish seventh behind a struggling Lappi.
Remarkably all of the WRC entrants finished the rally with Citroen’s Craig Breen (co-driver Scott Martin) in ninth from Hyundai’s Andreas Mikkelsen (co-driver Anders Jaeger-Synnevaag).
The two had a rough time in the rally despite Mikkelsen winning SS4. M-Sport Ford Fiesta’s Teemu Suninen (co-driver Mikko Markkula) was the last of WRC runners in 11th – unable to score any points.