Pirelli shod Loeb wins the Rally of Portugal
Citroen driver Sebastien Loeb maintained his dominance of the 2009 World Rally Championship with victory on the fourth round of the series - the Rally of Portugal - which ended in Faro Sunday.
Initially, Loeb’s Pirelli-shod Citroen C4 WRC was forced to give early race-leading position to Ford drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen and his team-mate Dani Sordo, who all took turns at the front of the field before the five-time world champion moved to the top of the timesheets on Saturday’s special stage 8. Loeb then reeled off the fastest times of the rally under the warm Portuguese spring sunshine to collect his 51st victory – and fourth successive win in 2009.
“It’s been a good rally,” said Loeb. “The Pirelli tire has worked well all of the time. We didn’t have any problems. Yesterday the road was quite hard for the tire, but we were able to look after them and make them last – they also coped well with the loose conditions on the first day. There was quite a lot of gravel and we had to do quite a lot of cleaning of the road, but the Scorpion tire was very good.”
Loeb’s closest rival was once again Hirvonen. Latvala crashed spectacularly out of the lead on Friday, and rolled his Ford 17 times down a mountainside after he failed to slow his Focus RS WRC 08 down in time for a fourth-stage corner.
Loeb’s team-mate Dani Sordo collected third place to move Citroen further ahead of Ford in the manufacturers’ race.
This year’s Rally of Portugal also marked the start of a new era for Pirelli in WRC competition with the inauguration of the Pirelli Star Driver Scheme - a collaboration between Pirelli and the FIA to develop young drivers. Five drivers: Jarkko Nikara (Finland), Nicos Thomas (Cyprus), Martin Semerad (Czech Republic), Mark Tapper (New Zealand) and Jon Williams (South Africa) tackled Portugal as the first of a six-event WRC program.
The Rally of Portugal qualified as a round of the Production Car and Junior World Rally Championships – both of which are supplied by Pirelli Tire. Local driver Armindo Araujo went one better than the second place he’d managed in Cyprus two weeks earlier by clinching his maiden 2009 P-WRC win in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX. It was a similar story in the Junior category: Michal Kosciuszko was also second last time out, but won his first JWRC win of the year in his factory Suzuki.
Pirelli rally manager Mario Isola said: “We are very pleased with the way this event has gone. We had no problems with the tires. Okay, there were some punctures caused by accidents, but otherwise the hard-compound Scorpion tire coped very well with the conditions.
This has been another very strong drive from Sebastien Loeb, but once again we saw Ford pushing Citroen hard.
This was also a historic rally for Pirelli with the Star Driver Scheme. This association with the FIA to help young drivers in the sport has made us very proud as a company. All five of the drivers have performed well and we now look ahead to the rest of the season with these exciting guys.”