Loeb takes WRC crown with Pirelli tires
Not only did the 36-year-old from France capture his 60th victory at world championship level in front of hundreds and thousands of spectators, he also secured his seventh world title, the 11th by a driver using Pirelli tires.
While Loeb's triumph on his home rally was widely considered a foregone conclusion before Thursday's ceremonial start in Strasbourg, the tricky stage conditions put the onus firmly on survival as the rain-hit asphalt tests of the Alsace region became coated in mud and gravel dragged onto the road by competing crews taking 'cuts' through corners.
It meant Pirelli's P Zero asphalt tire, fitted to all four-wheel drive cars competing on the event, was subjected to extremely demanding conditions, which intensified when the rain subsided on Saturday morning and there was no precipitation to clean away the surface dirt and debris. But the tire passed the test with flying colors and was widely praised for the level of grip it offered, despite the treacherous nature of the bulk of the route, which covered 352.88 kilometers.
"For sure this is really special and it's incredible for me to win my seventh world title here in my home town," said Loeb. "It has been a very impressive rally but very difficult. There has been a lot of support and I really did not expect this. With Dani [Sordo] finishing second, Citroen has won the manufacturers' title and me my 60th world championship rally. Sure I led from the start but the conditions never made it easy and I really had to concentrate. Fortunately my car and the tires were always very good and never let me down."
Jari-Matti Latvala, who produced arguably his best performance on asphalt by going fastest on three stages in his factory Ford Focus WRC and finishing fourth overall said, "The Pirelli tire worked extremely well in very bad conditions. It was so difficult with so much muck on the road but we never had a problem with grip, particularly under braking for the difficult corners it was always very good."
Due to the slippery conditions, competitors opted to use the soft compound version of the Pirelli P Zero tire throughout the event. The compound type is designed to provide optimum road holding in lower ambient temperatures and when the stage surface is damp and slippery.
"The mud, the rain and the cold temperatures made the conditions the most difficult we have ever experienced on a Tarmac rally," said Pirelli's senior WRC tire engineer Matteo Braga. "There was a lot of mud and small stones dragged onto the road and the stage surface, which was already very inconsistent, became even more difficult for the drivers. Fortunately the P Zero tire provided good grip and there was never any problem of wear when it stopped raining and the road began to dry.
"There were quite a few problems of broken rims through drivers taking big 'cuts' resulting in tires losing their air. But there were several cases when drivers came back to service with badly damaged rims but with all the air still in the tire. This demonstrates the strength of the sidewall construction we pioneered since we became the official tire supplier to the WRC in 2008."
As well as counting for round 11 of the 13-event World Rally Championship, Rallye de France also formed the penultimate rounds of the Super 2000 and Production world championships, which use Pirelli tires as standard and therefore underline the performance and efficiency of the Italian rubber on a wide range of machinery.
Patrik Sandell, driving a Skoda Fabia S2000, took the honors in the SWRC category with Armindo Aráujo winning the PWRC in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X. French wildcard entrant Jeremi Ancian completed a clean sweep of the support championship for Pirelli when he won the Junior World Rally Championship division in his Suzuki Swift S1600.
Rallye de France was the fifth event of the season for the five Pirelli Star Drivers Nick Georgiou, Peter Horsey, Hayden Paddon, Alex Raschi and Ott Tanak. The program, a joint initiative between Pirelli and the FIA, motorsport's world governing body, gives promising talents from around the world the chance to compete on six WRC events in identical Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Xs. Tanak was the leading finisher after an electrical fault meant Paddon hit trouble on Friday's opening leg.
The World Rally Championship heads next to Spain for the penultimate round of the season from October 21-24. The event has a new format for 2010 with Friday's opening day using gravel stages with Tarmac sections. Pirelli will provide its gravel-specification Scorpion tire for day one and its P Zero asphalt tire for Saturday and Sunday, when the event uses all-asphalt tests.
Before then, Paolo Andreucci, driving a Pirelli-shod Peugeot Italia 207 Super 2000, can clinch the Italian Rally Championship for a fifth time when he contests Rally Costa Smeralda, which uses the gravel roads of the Gullura region of Sardinia from October 7-9.