WRC: The Factory Fords Hand Victory to Loeb's Pirelli-Equipped Citroen C4
The Rally New Zealand, which finished in Hamilton today, has certainly been one of the most dramatic events of the entire season. After a spin on the opening stage this morning, Sebastien Loeb believed that he had lost the chance to pass the two Scorpion-equipped factory Ford Focus WRCs of Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen.
Instead, an impact with a rock for Latvala and a spin for Hirvonen left the way clear for Loeb and his C4 WRC to claim their eighth win of the season, ahead of team mates Dani Sordo and Marc Marti.
Hamilton, 31 August 2008- In 2007, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena had to concede victory in New Zealand to the factory Ford Focus of Marcus Gronholm by just three-tenths of a second. This year, despite a very different rally that was characterised by tactics, the win also looked like going Ford's way. Loeb also spun his Pirelli-shod Citroen C4 WRC on the first stage this morning, which seemed to settle things in Ford's favour. But in sport, nothing is ever over until the chequered flag falls or the final whistle blows.
As it turned out, both the factory Ford drivers made crucial mistakes on the penultimate stage of 18 that caused them to lose their advantage over the Citroens of Sordo and Loeb. Latvala was forced to retire, while Hirvonen dropped behind both the French cars. On the very same stage, a third Ford that was holding a secure fifth place - the Stobart Focus of Francois Duval and Patrick Pivato - went off the road and out of the rally.
Loeb therefore had victory handed to him on a plate. As his co-driver Daniel Elena explained: "I know that it's just one of those things, but I certainly didn't expect a surprise like that right at the finish. It was an odd rally right from the start and it finished in an unusual way as well. The Scorpion tyres did a more than worthy job, proving once more to be extremely strong."
Loeb finished in front of Sordo-Martì in the second Pirelli Scorpion-equipped Citroen C4 WRC. The Spanish crew drove an excellent rally, keeping up a good pace but steering clear of major mistakes. Citroen's one-two, ahead of Mikko Hirvonen's Focus WRC, assumes a vital importance in the drivers' and manufacturers' championship, as Loeb and Citroen have now accumulated a notable advantage over their Ford rivals.
Pirelli's Motorsport Director Paul Hembery highlighted some interest technical elements to the hard compound Scorpion tyres. "Once more in New Zealand we had concrete proof that the hard compound Pirelli Scorpion tyres are truly versatile," he said. "We saw this on the first and second day, where the drivers had to cope with extremely variable conditions, including surfaces that were wet, dry, greasy and abrasive. Today the action took place on very slippery gravel, which demonstrated the excellent lateral grip generated by our tyres even when drivers got out of the ruts that marked out the ideal racing line."