Sebastien Loeb wins a dramatic rally Great Britain
The very first World Rally Championship of the Pirelli era drew to a close in Wales on December 7, with the recently-crowned five-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb breaking his own record by claiming his 11th win in one season. Citroen-Pirelli has now taken the 2008 World Championship for Manufacturers, thanks also to a strong third place for Loeb’s teammate Dani Sordo.
Ice and frost was once again the order of the day for the final day of the Wales Rally Great Britain, which marked the end of the first World Championship held under the single tyre rule with Pirelli as the exclusive supplier. Despite the wintry conditions, Pirelli reports that its soft-compound Scorpion tyres worked well in the tricky weather, contributing to a dramatic finish. The factory Ford Focus-Pirelli of Jari-Matti Latvala led from the opening day, but Loeb overcame the deficit on the final stage to win the rally by only 12.7 seconds and give Citroen its third manufacturers’ title.
The Production Car World Rally Championship (PWRC) was also settled during the Rally Great Britain. Austria’s Andreas Aigner finished second in the class, which was enough for the Mitsubishi driver to claim his inaugural PWRC title. The PWRC victory on the challenging British roads was claimed by Patrick Flodin in a Subaru Impreza, the marque’s first Group N World Rally Championship victory in over a year.
“As could maybe have been expected, conditions on the Rally Great Britain in December were very cold and slippery,” said Mario Isola, Pirelli’s Rally Manager. “Nonetheless, our Scorpion tyres have coped well with the challenge and demonstrated a high degree of driveability, as has been the case throughout the whole of the year. It’s clear that when you have exactly the same tyre that needs to be used in a wide variety of places and weather conditions, it becomes a question of finding the best compromise – which we believe that we have found. It is also worth nothing that, contrary to some peoples’ fears before the start of the season, there has been an extremely limited number of punctures over the course of the year and this was also the case on the Wales Rally Great Britain. In conclusion, it has been an extremely successful first season for Pirelli, and now we look forward with optimism to 2009.”
Winner of the N3 class and 30th overall was the youngest driver ever to enter the UK round of the championship, Tom Cave, who also was the only driver not competing on Pirelli tyres during the Wales Rally GB. Cave’s Yokohama shod Ford Fiesta, co-driven by Gemma Price, secured victory in its class with a 15 minute lead over the next competitor. When observing the weekend’s treacherous conditions, Cave and Price knew how easy it would be to fall foul of the weather and deliberately set a pace that would ensure they avoided the worst of the potential problems and achieve their objective of finishing the event.
Their strategy paid off and by the end of the first day, they had already notched-up a class of lead of around six minutes. By the time they reached the finish ramp in Cardiff on Sunday afternoon, they had climbed to 30th overall from their start position of 94th, were the second two wheel-drive car overall and won the category for Group N cars up to 2000cc by almost a quarter of an hour.
Tom put much of their success down to adopting a pragmatic approach to the event and the grip and stability of the Yokohama tyres, as well as the on-event support from rally technician, Simon Clark. “I was very impressed with the Yokohama tyres, as well as the support from Simon over the weekend. The tyres worked extremely well; we picked up just two punctures throughout the event, which is incredible when you consider just how bad the conditions were and these were entirely down to the roughness of the stage surface.
“We used two options over the weekend; the narrow tyre worked very well on Friday, when we were faced with mud, ice and then on the second run through, churned-up mud. We used the wider tyre on Saturday and Sunday, when there was less ice and this helped with stability and turn-in on the faster stages, especially when the roads were very badly rutted. There was more grip available on Saturday and Sunday and the Yokohamas made full use of that.
Commenting on the weekend’s result, Yokohama HPT Motorsport manager Mark Evans said; “We are naturally delighted to have helped Tom to achieve an outstanding result on his WRC debut and offer our congratulations to him, Gemma and the rest of the Tom Cave Racing team.
“The conditions this weekend were extremely difficult and the changing nature of the roads within single stages meant that it was almost impossible to have exactly the right tyre for the full stage distance. But Tom worked closely with Simon and Martin Rowe (former Production car World Rally Champion) to establish a set-up on the car that would give consistent, safe levels of grip. To then go out and dominate the class as Tom did is an amazing achievement and I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of this young man in the future.”