After Argentina and Greece, the Citroën Total World Rally Team secured its third one-two finish in a row at Rally New Zealand with the Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen crews.
The result means the team ends the first part of the season leading the Manufacturers’ World Championship and holding first and second places in the Drivers’ standings.
Featuring 61 kilometres of timed stages – i.e. less than 15% of the overall distance – the final day of Rally New Zealand was a little less taxing than the first two days. As expected, it was raining heavily in Auckland as the drivers had to choose their tyres. The Citroën Total WRT drivers’ choice of tyres was largely informed by the fact they had already used the ten soft tyres available to them for the entire rally. Sébastien Loeb opted to take four new hard tyres and two soft tyres that he had already used, whereas Mikko Hirvonen went for the opposite choice.
Located around sixty kilometres to the north of the service park, the Burnside/Wech Access and Puhoi stages had no significant impact on the overall standings. The morning’s loop ended with the Auckland Domain super special stage, held in the city’s oldest park.
Before the Power Stage (Burnside/Wech Access 2), the second section featured the Auckland Domain and Puhoi stages, and then the Ahuroa test. Once again, the Citroën drivers opted for different tyres: five hard Michelin Latitude Cross tyres for Mikko Hirvonen and a mix of three hard tyres and two soft tyres for Sébastien Loeb.
Obviously, attention focussed on the final stage, where additional points were available for the top three times. Sébastien Loeb grabbed the third fastest time, giving him a total of twenty-six points at this rally. “We had to hold out to the end after an exciting two-day battle with Mikko,” said Loeb, who now boasts 72 career world championship wins. “Once again, conditions were difficult but we managed to secure a one-two finish. I’m very pleased that I can go on holiday now with a comfortable lead in the championship! It’s true that the first half of the season has been fantastic, with five wins out of seven rallies.”
Mikko was pleased to have finished in a good position again despite having to cope with less suitable tyres than his rivals throughout the final day: “It wasn’t a very exciting day, but we had to stay focussed to avoid making a mistake. This is another good result for the team; it concludes the first part of the season, during which I have learned a lot. I am pleased with how the first seven rallies have gone. I have been fighting for the win a regular basis, and that feels good. I now have a fine collection of runner-up spots, so I’ll be going into the second half of the season hoping to claim some wins.”
“This leg was easier to manage than we feared,” concluded Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal. “The grip was relatively good on the stages and the tyres we fitted were reasonably well suited to the conditions. Like Seb and Mikko, my assessment of the first half of the season is positive. In terms of the reliability of our drivers and the DS3 WRCs, our tactics and tyre management, we’ve just completed three rallies without making any mistakes. We will arrive at the start of Rally Finland with a comfortable lead in both the Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ World Championship standings. That means we’ll be able to relax a little, which is essential if you are going to go for the win there.”