The final round of the 2012 World Rally Championship, Rally de Espana will also see Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena’s last full season in WRC draw to a close.
For the Citroën Total World Rally Team, it will be very much the end of an era, and one which has seen nine consecutive Drivers’ World Championships* won by the Franco-Monegasque crew. It goes without saying that Seb and Daniel will be looking to finish the year in style in Catalonia, just like their team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen, recent winners of Rally Italia.
Part of the WRC calendar since 1991, this year sees Rally de Espana play host to the finale of the World Rally Championship for the first time. Although the titles and the main podium places have been decided, the event looks set to be a huge end-of-year party, driven by the passion and enthusiasm of the rally-mad Catalan fans. The rally keeps the mixed surface format adopted in 2010, the first leg being held on gravel, followed by two days on tarmac. There are several new features in 2012, the most significant being that the ceremonial start will now be held in Barcelona on Thursday evening and there is a new stage on the seafront in Salou, the seaside resort hosting the service park.
After Sébastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and Citroën won the WRC titles at the Rallye de France Alsace, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen confirmed that they would finish the year as runners-up by winning in Sardinia. Although Loeb and Hirvonen have almost become accustomed to finishing first and second at the end of the season, this one-two finish in the Drivers’ World Championship is a first for the Brand.
Just as in Italy, both Citroën crews will be focussed solely on going for the win. Unbeaten in Catalonia since 2005, Seb and Daniel have won the event seven times running, making them the hot favourites here. “Just like in Sardinia, I think we’ll all be ‘pumped up’ to try and win. I’m not here to finish fourth or fifth, nor is Mikko, and those behind us in the standings will also want to finish the year with a good result. Although the titles are no longer up for grabs, it’ll still be interesting,” predicted Sébastien Loeb. As he prepared to finish his last full season, the nine-time World Champion appeared to be just as philosophical as usual: “A chapter is undoubtedly set to close this weekend. I’ll be in Monte-Carlo when the 2013 championship gets underway, but it won’t be the same. I don’t think that I feel any regret or sadness, because my decision to stop rallying doesn’t signal the end of my racing career. With Citroën, we are preparing to take on new challenges and I am really looking forward to committing fully to them. For the time being, however, let’s try and win this Rally de Espana!”
On the podium in Germany and in France, Mikko Hirvonen would love to do at least as well here, to finish the 2012 season strongly: “My aim is to move up another step to get closer to Sébastien. If I manage to battle – even if it’s only a little bit – with him, then that would mean I would have made another big step forwards. We moved in the right direction in France and we’ve kept on working since then. This week, for example, I spent a day driving a single-seater to help me to improve my braking and racing lines.”
“After winning nine rallies this season, including five one-two finishes, our crews have all the tools they need to improve Citroën’s score,” added Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal. “Obviously, Catalonia is one of Seb’s favourite venues, but we’re all expectantly waiting to see how much Mikko has progressed since the last rally. Winning here would be fantastic, especially as it would be the 250th WRC win for our partner Michelin.”
* Subject to publication of the official results