Latvala drives to victory in Wales Rally; Hirvonen and Loeb forced out after accidents
Loeb takes 8th successive WRC title while Hirvonen is left to rue what might have been
Finnish rally ace Mikko Hirvonen woke up to the sound of a mobile phone in Wales on Sunday morning. Under different circumstances, the incoming message might have brought a wry smile to his face, but as it was, it only compounded his gloom.
Hirvonen, who crashed out of the season-concluding WRC race on Friday, was told that Sébastien Loeb, who once again took the WRC title, had likewise had to retire from the race.
The Frenchman was forced out after having collided with Spanish rally fans during a road section between the special stages.
"Of course it felt rather weird to hear what had happened to Loeb. Who knows what would have happened had we still been in the race. But it is pointless to think about the ifs and ands of it all, even if I am slightly tempted to”, Hirvonen smiled on the inner courtyard of the Cardiff Castle, while watching his fellow competitors drive by to the finishing ceremony.
For Hirvonen, the Rally of Wales came to an end on the second day of the race after a small stick managed to puncture - and empty - his car’s radiator in connection with a harmless-looking spin.
Hirvonen’s Ford Abu Dhabi team tried to fix the car, but driving without coolant had damaged the engine too badly for Hirvonen to continue the race under the super rally rule.
Had the mechanics been able to patch up Hirvonen’s Ford Fiesta, the Finn would have retained theoretical chances to clinch this year’s drivers’ title.
This, however, would have required Loeb to retire from the race - which is exactly what happened on Sunday morning.
“We never have any luck. This is how things stand, and I am sad to say it, but Loeb is a deserving winner. He has driven fast and he's been consistent, so let him have his eighth title”, Hirvonen commented.
In the end, the French Citroën pilot beat Hirvonen to the title by eight points.
Two years ago a single point separated the two in Loeb’s favour in the final WRC standings.
Hirvonen, who has now finished three times in the runner-up position in the World Rally Championship circuit, was not downcast after the Wales Rally.
”This has not been one of my strongest seasons. I was able to remain consistent, but at times that last bit of fighting spirit remained absent in places where it was most needed. In the future I have to find it in order to be able to challenge for the Championship”, Hirvonen analysed his performance.
“I had a couple of beers on Saturday night, but I was saving it for tonight. I have not reformatted my hard drive yet”, the Finn added with a laugh.
After the season-concluding event Hirvonen refused to reveal anything about his future plans. There have been rumours floating around that the Finn might be seen in the Citroën team next year. In Wales, Loeb made it understood that Hirvonen would be in the process of becoming his teammate.
“Well, I don’t know about that”, Hirvonen said, slightly bothered by the enquiry.
From the Finnish point of view, the rally season ended on an upbeat note with Jari-Matti Latvala (Ford Abu Dhabi) beating Norwegian Mads Östberg (M-Sport Stobart Ford) to the top of the podium by nearly four minutes.
For a long time Latvala was racing head-to-head with Loeb, but after the Frenchman retired the Finn had an easy task to bring the race home.
“Of course it would have been more spectacular to win with Loeb in the race until the very end, but a win is a win. And we were ahead of him just by driving”, pointed out Latvala, who finished fourth in this year’s WRC drivers’ table.
At the finish Latvala received a big hug from his father, to whom he dedicated his victory in celebration of the Finnish Fathers’ Day.
“I now have my name on a worthy list of the winners of the Wales Rally. I have coveted this title since 2007”, Latvala rejoiced.
”This has been a difficult year, and at times my faith in securing a rally victory has truly been tested”, said Latvala, who has not topped the podium since the Rally of Finland in 2010.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Loeb wins Rally of Finland and moves a step closer to 8th WRC title (1.8.2011)
Technical problems plague Latvala and Hirvonen in Rally of Portugal (28.3.2011)
Latvala Motorsport Oy
World Rally Championship 2011 (Wikipedia)