Loeb takes Neste Oil Rally Finland for a third time
Finns occupy podium places, but the glory days are long gone
Once upon a time, the Neste Oil Rally Finland, formerly the Rally of a Thousand Lakes, was a veritable fiefdom for local drivers, with the occasional Swede rudely poking his nose in every five years or so.
Carlos Sainz of Spain (1990) was the first to burst this Nordic bubble of contentment, but thereafter normal services were resumed, until Estonian Markko Märtin had the sauce to win in 2003, and until a certain rather special Frenchman came along in 2008.
These days the script of Rally Finland, and for that matter almost any race on the World Rally Championship calendar, is like a fairy-tale or a cradle song, but the Finns are no longer the heroes and main characters.
The script is familiar, and it comes with a safe and secure ending: Uncle Sébastien (Loeb) crosses the finish line before the others and maintains his rightful sway over the rallying kingdom.
His arch-rivals, the wild and passionate Finns, are a rallying nation used to topping the podium.
But nowadays they fail to secure the number one spot, even on their treasured home turf (or gravel, in this case).
That’s right. Sébastien Loeb (Citroën) has won this year’s Neste Oil Rally Finland.
He was also the winner last year and is very likely to repeat the trick next year as well.
The eight-time World Champion has now topped the podium three times on conclusion of the Rally of Finland, which is more often than any other non-Finnish driver.
In fact no other non-Finn has EVER won more than once here until Loeb came along and showed how it's done.
The race was followed by classic comments by the champion.
“I feel really happy for sure. To win Finland is always something special. It’s a special rally and the roads are incredible.”
“For sure it’s a great moment to win here and to have two Finnish drivers on each side”, Loeb continued in the press conference, where he was seated between Mikko Hirvonen (his Citroën teammate) and Jari-Matti Latvala (Ford) who finished second and third respectively.
“Since the start of the rally, the feeling was perfect with the car”, the Frenchman praised his Citroën.
Before Saturday’s six special stages Loeb’s only threat was his Finnish colleague Mikko Hirvonen, who enjoyed a five-second lead.
During the first special stage, Hirvonen hit a tree stump and thought that he had punctured a tyre. In reality the tyre was undamaged. Trying to ensure that he would reach the finish line in one piece cost Hirvonen 3.9 seconds.
Before the last two special stages raced in Ouninpohja, Loeb was in the lead with 9.4 seconds separating him and Hirvonen. In rallying, 9.4 seconds equals an eternity.
The Frenchman capped the race with a safe six-second margin over Hirvonen.
In the drivers’ table, Loeb’s lead over Hirvonen was further increased (it is now 171 points to 128) and unless something truly dramatic happens he is very likely to be crowned as the World Championship for the ninth time later this year.
“It was a tough race and I did manage to secure the silver medal. Against Loeb an excellent weekend is not enough. One has to do even better than that”, Hirvonen commented.
Jari-Matti Latvala (69 points) is down in 5th place behind Petter Solberg of Norway (Ford) and Mads Östberg, also of Norway and driving a Ford.
The next race on the WRC calendar will be in Germany from August 24th. Needless to say, Loeb has won in Germany just the eight times.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Loeb increases his lead in WRC drivers´ table to 30 points (28.5.2012)
Mikko Hirvonen wins Portugal Rally - and is disqualified after the fact owing to a technical issue (2.4.2012)