More than five years after his most recent WRC success, Sébastien Loeb (Citroën/Michelin) notched up the 79th world class win of his career this weekend in Spain. The Frenchman was chased over the line by Sébastien Ogier, who has recovered the championship lead, and the latter’s Ford/Michelin team-mate Elfyn Evans. The Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ titles will be settled in Australia.
Poor weather made tyre choice difficult in Catalonia where no fewer than five options were available for the year’s only mixed-surface fixture, namely the soft- and hard-compound Michelin Pilot Sport S6 and H5 – plus a full wet option (FW3) – for asphalt, and the hard and medium Michelin LTX Force H4 and M6 for gravel.
Thanks to his and Citroën Racing’s experience, Loeb made a judicious choice for Sunday morning’s partially damp conditions by opting for the Pilot Sport H5. The nine-time world champion subsequently eased into the lead thanks to two straight fastest times and, despite a spin on the rally’s penultimate test (SS17), went on to claim his ninth RallyRACC Catalunya victory. At the age of 44 years, eight months and two days, he is the third-oldest driver to win a WRC round, on the same event where he kicked off his world championship career aged 19. It was also Citroën’s first success since Espana 2017.
Loeb finished just 2.9 seconds clear of Ogier who didn’t get all his tyre calls right in Spain but who is back at the top of the Drivers’ standings, three points clear of Thierry Neuville. The Hyundai/Michelin driver ended up fourth after being passed on the last test by Evans who made it two M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRCs on the podium. The British squad is now only 25 and 13 points behind Toyota Gazoo Racing and Hyundai Motorsport in the Manufacturers’ table.
The Toyota Yaris WRCs failed to reap the reward for their speed. Ott Tänak led after Day 1 on dirt and extended his lead in Saturday morning’s rain but then lost a minute and fell to eighth when he was forced to change a damaged wheel on SS10. The Estonian fought back to sixth at the finish and collected five Power Stage points to stay in the chase for the Drivers’ crown, albeit 23 points short of Ogier.
The Japanese make’s Jari-Matti Latvala led on Saturday afternoon but a front-left scrape on Sunday’s SS17 dropped him to eighth overall, behind team-mates Tänak and Esapekka Lappi. Dani Sordo (Hyundai/Michelin) also figured briefly in front on home soil but ended up fifth.
Michelin partners monopolised the WRC2 podium thanks to Skoda Fabia R5 runners Kalle Rovanperä and Jan Kopecky, the class’s 2018 champion. Petter Solberg, who was making his first WRC appearance since 2012, was third in the new VW Polo GTi R5/Michelin.
With three drivers and three makes still in contention for the main titles, the season’s final round will take teams to Australia on November 15-18.