Loeb takes the trophy, Hirvonen and Solberg win the hearts
After the call came from Citroën, instructing their duo to bring cars home safely, rally in New Zealand lost a bit of it’s appeal, but not for long and not entirely.
In fact, it was a perfect allround display of rallying – that is, getting to the finish thanks to brains and cool head, as opposed to “pedal to the metal and see where it takes us” approach. If FIA keeps insisting on bringing back long(er) rallies, then drivers will have to learn to go with the flow, to nurse the car and also to just lift the right foot off the throttle if pushing proves to be too risky.
Yet, we as fans cannot help ourselves but feel a little bit disappointed over the fact that Mikko Hirvonen was once again told to behave (not in these words, but I like drama!). I said it yesterday and I’ll say it again – I do believe Mikko and Sebastien Loeb’s fight in day 1 and 2 was genuine and that Frenchman overtook his Finnish team mate thanks to pure performance. If that was the case, then I can only hope Mikko is able to be the one ahead next time Yves Matton, Citroën’s team principal, calls in to inform them play time is over.
Citroën claimed a secure and superb victory in New Zealand, while Ford once again stumbled due to their own mistakes and tactical errors. Mikko Hirvonen gave Sebastien Loeb a few reasons to worry and Frenchman had to reach deep into his bag of tricks to keep the Finn behind, yet Mikko knows when to play and when to work. You don’t simply win title with Sebastien Loeb on board. Only when Seb starts losing his focus and speed on a more consistant basis can Hirvonen and the rest of the gang hope to have a go at him. And I’m pretty sure he will retire long before that happens.
In the meantime, Hirvonen accepted his fate with a relaxed smile – he is pushing eight-times world champion, but to try and win on every rally would put them both into risky zone and Citroën simply cannot allow that. It would provide a show (up until either one of them or even both end up in a ditch), but shows are forgotten quickly, titles and wins are not.
On the other hand, if Ford did not have their problems, I am pretty sure Mr Matton would be calling his drivers a lot earlier in New Zealand.
Another superb performance in New Zealand came from Ford’s Petter Solberg. Norwegian ace will not see his dream of fighting for another title come to life this season. After all, when he joined blue oval squad he was politely told about his spot in the team. Yet, as a number 2 driver he is still doing better job than Jari-Matti Latvala. In New Zealand Solberg had a dreadful start – team made a stupid mistake and for the second rally in a row sent him out on a wrong set of tyres. And while in Greece it was one stage only, in New Zealand it was a 100 km loop. Solberg was done and buried, yet after bitterness and disappointment he decided to jump back into the car and do his job. And he did! He got up to third (largely thanks to only handful of drivers and the gaps being more in a Dakar rally zone) and kept his cool to the finish.
Can Solberg win rallies? I’m pretty sure he can. But can he even start a rally without either going off on day 1 or taking snow tyres to tarmac stages (I’m telling you, this is the next “error” they’re going to make) remains to be seen. For now, Norwegian proved he does have the speed and knows how to drive a controlled rally, but to put it all to work from the very first stage of the rally is another story. I hope he gets a chance to prove it.
Meanwhile, Ford really needs to sort their priorities and quick. I cannot imagine how Malcolm Wilson is explaining all these team and driver errors, but it will be either him slamming his fist on the desk and demanding order or it might be bosses in Ford slamming theirs. And World Rally Championship NEEDS Ford.
Power stage victory in New Zealand went to the only driver who could push like hell and not worry about the thing. Yep, that’s Jari-Matti Latvala. After he got stuck in a wire fence while taking his Fiesta out for a grazing trip on day 1, Latvala was only able to finish 7th (would be 8th were it not for Ott Tanak’s roll in day 3). Remaining extra points went to Petter Solberg and Sebastien Loeb.