Leaders since Friday morning, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena claimed their eighth win of the season in Strasbourg and the 75th victory of their remarkable career. The result means that they become World Rally Champions for the ninth year running.
Also on the podium, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen collected the points required to wrap up the Manufacturers’ championship. The Citroën Total World Rally Team has therefore won its eighth world title at this year’s Rallye de France.
Although it was much shorter than the previous two days, the final leg of the Rallye de France didn’t look like it would be easy going. Rain had fallen throughout the night and continued into the early morning, which eliminated any lingering doubts about tyre choice: both of the Citroën Total World Rally Team’s DS3 WRCs set off from the service park fitted with soft Michelin Pilot Sport tyres.
Sébastien Loeb had barely covered a few metres on Vignoble de Cleebourg before he saw just how little grip there was. Following the action intently on the screens showing live onboard and overhead camera footage, Citroën Racing’s engineers broke out into a collective cold sweat as they watched the no.1 DS3 WRC flirt with the verge. “We were aquaplaning a lot and, as there was more and more water on the road, I really took it easy on the last few kilometres. At a push, I don’t have to win the rally to secure the championship,” admitted the leader.
“This morning’s conditions were very similar to those we had at the Rallye Vosgien, which I competed in as preparation for this rally,” added Mikko Hirvonen. “I have been really cautious so as not to jeopardise the team’s overall result. In normal racing conditions, I think it will be difficult to close the gap to Latvala.”
After a regroup held in Haguenau, Sébastien Loeb’s home town, the first ten in the overall standings were sent off in reverse order for the last three stages. In sunny but muddy conditions, the second run on Vignoble de Cleebourg counted as the rally’s Power Stage with bonus points on offer. Once again, Sébastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen didn’t look to set the stage alight, as these points weren’t necessary to win the Drivers’ title.
Managing their lead until the final stop control on Haguenau 2, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena could finally relax and let go of the tension that had built up during the week: “This is what we came to do, experience the feelings we enjoyed in 2010 again by winning the world title ‘at home’. This year the feeling is even more special, because it is undoubtedly the last one. I drove carefully this morning, but it wasn’t very easy due to the weather conditions. Even when it stopped raining, the roads were still extremely muddy. There were two rallies left where I could have won the title, but I’m really very happy to do it here for the fans in Alsace.”
Mikko Hirvonen was all smiles after he racked up his eighth podium finish of the season: “I had already felt the joy of winning the Manufacturers’ title in 2007 and I’m excited to experience it again with Citroën. That’s the most important thing this weekend, but for me personally, I’m also pleased with the progress I have made on tarmac. I have finished here in the same place as in Germany, but I feel like I have taken several steps forward on this rally. I’m looking forward to checking this in Catalonia, but before that, we are going to celebrate this great achievement!”
Frédéric Banzet, Citroën General Manager, was on hand to share the joy of the team: “Citroën competes in motorsport events in to win, and once again Citroën Racing has shown that it is the best team in the world. The engineers, technicians and crews have all done a fantastic job this season. These successes support the Brand’s determined and energetic commercial strategy.”
* Subject to publication of the official results by the FIA.