Dani Sordo competing in the rally.
Dani Sordo competing in the rally. CATHY ADAMS

Sebastien Loeb wins Rally Australia

FIVE-time world champion Sebastien Loeb has staged a calculated and stunning fight back to claim victory at Repco Rally Australia ahead of Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen and Citroen driver Dani Sordo, after 35 competitive stages around the NSW Northern Rivers region.

In one of the tightest battles of the season, Loeb, Hirvonen and Sordo went into day three separated by just 0.1 seconds with the Citroen’s number one driver emerging from today’s 10 special stages with four stage wins and victory by 12.5 seconds.

With an 18.4 second lead going into the final Repco 2 stage, Loeb was third fastest on the final 22.41km test to claim his close but comfortable win, regain his championship form and put him within one point of championship leader Mikko Hirvonen. This was also Loeb’s 53rd win and his sixth this season.

Said Loeb after the final stage: “This one is a good one, I got it half right, and it has been a long time. It is really good to win again.”

“I am really happy. It is really interesting this year to see what we can do; it was incredible in the final. I won, I know some people think I’m not good at new rallies, but I don’t know why. It was important for me to get this victory.”

Mikko Hirvonen secured an important second place, winning the final stage, defending off Dani Sordo, and keeping the BP Ford Abu Dhabi Ford driver in the championship lead by just one point, with two rallies to go.

“Been absolutely flat out,” told Hirvonen, “but being first on the road meant I couldn’t help it; Citroën has been really good.”

Dani Sordo rounded out the podium, just 4.6 seconds off Hirvonen and just 17.1 seconds off Loeb. “I tried to keep Mikko behind, but it was really, really difficult. I try really, really hard. I lost second place, but it’s nice.”

Latvala’s two tyre punctures and day two road position were detrimental to his fight for the lead ad after leading for much of day one; he recovered to finish a solid fifth. A somewhat frustrated Latvala explained: “It was the two punctures. It was a fantastic start; we were leading the rally, it just didn’t work out this time. I’m not happy, but at least we finished and we got manufacturer points. It’s not lost yet [manufacturer’s title].”

Surviving his own puncture on SS30, Matthew Wilson’s fight for sixth place with VK Stobart teammate Henning Solberg was eased when Solberg lost almost two minutes this afternoon with brake problems, dropping behind Federico Villagra but fighting back into seventh on the final stage.

Solberg: “I was very unlucky today, lots of problems, it was a long day. We are here, and happy for it! I’m not happy with my performance, but I am happy with the place.”

Wilson: “It’s a shame Henning had problems, it made this afternoon a little boring, nothing to push for. Would have been nice to finish off with a battle. It’s been very challenging, a good mixtures of stages.”

Martin Prokop won P-WRC and finished ninth outright, a sterling effort given that none of the major WRC teams retired: “Yeah we were thinking about beating Paddon this morning, but this afternoon we just wanted to win PWRC, it was a very good weekend, we had a good time.”

Finishing 42.2 seconds off the P-WRC lead was Richard Mason, with Cody Crocker the highest finishing Australian in third another 53 seconds back. With his race car delayed in Indonesia last week and using a borrowed Les Walkden Rally car, Crocker was relieved: “Yeah it’s been a bit of a dream come true, our target was to be in Rally Oz. It [the car] got stuck in Indonesia, but we’re ecstatic. I’m keen to run with the PWRC guys. This is a good way to introduce ourselves; hopefully we’ll be a force to be reckoned with next year.”

Toshi Arai was cruelly robbed of fourth place in P-WRC and 13th outright when a gearbox failure stopped his Subaru half way through the final stage, moving Armindo Araujo up to fourth and Stewart Taylor to fifth.

After 344km of competitive stages, Repco Rally Australia has proved a resounding success with high-speed stages and a mix of tight and twisting roads and sets the stage for the final two 2009 rallies in Spain and Great Britain.

Pos Driver/car Time
1. Sebastien Loeb, Citroen 2h:52m:54.0s
2. Mikko Hirvonen, Ford +12.5s
3. Dani Sordo, Citroen +17.1s
4. Sebastien Ogier, Citroen +1:35.8s
5. Jari-Matti Latvala, Ford +2:04.5s
6. Matthew Wilson, Ford +5:38.8s
7. Henning Solberg, Ford +7:30.3s
8. Federico Villagra, Ford +7:51.9s
9. Hayden Paddon, Mitsubishi +15:48.6s
10. Martin Prokop, Mitsubishi +15:57.2s

Loeb : 9
Ogier : 8
Latvala : 7
Hirvonen : 5
Sordo : 4

Hirvonen : 76
Loeb : 75
Sordo : 50
Latvala : 35
H. Solberg : 29
P. Solberg : 25
Wilson : 23
Ogier : 21
Villagra : 15
Rautenbach : 8

1. Martin Prokop, Mitsubishi 3h:08m:51.2s
2. Richard Mason, Subaru +42.2s
3. Cody Crocker (AUS), Subaru +53.1s
4. Armindo Araujo, Mitsubishi +4:08.1s
5. Stewart Taylor, Mitsubishi +5:39.2s

Araujo : 42
Prokop : 39
Al-Attiya : 31
Sandell : 28
Brynildsen : 22
Arai : 17

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