Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena laid the foundations of their latest WRC victory during the first two days of Rally Bulgaria. At the end of the final stages on Sunday, they racked up their 58th world championship win.
Despite being under constant pressure from Petter Solberg, Dani Sordo and Marc Marti held onto their second place, giving the Citroen Total World Rally Team its first double of the 2010 season.
And thanks to Petter Solberg and Sebastien Ogier, Citroen scored the first one-two-three-four in its history in the FIA World Rally Championship.
Sebastien Loeb had a 40-second lead over Dani Sordo when he left the parc ferme, so could afford to hold on to his position on the final day. The six-time world champion lost a handful of seconds in the first two stages: "It's an ideal situation, but I don't really feel very comfortable when I have to ensure my place. You can always puncture or make a mistake. I'll try to stay concentrated and enjoy the stages. My C4 is quite simply perfect and its sheer magic to drive in these conditions." For Sordo, on the other hand, the third day looked more fraught. The Spaniard had only a 4.7sec lead over Petter Solberg and had no choice but to push to keep his position. In Muhovo 1 (SS14), the Norwegian pulled back 9/10sec, but Dani hit back in Slavovitsa 1 (SS15). He took 2.7sec off his rival and arrived in the Dolna Banya service park with 6.5sec in hand: "I'm going to have to keep on pushing, as I know that Petter will give nothing away. He drove very well in the first loop, but I wasn't too slow either!"
The Sordo/Solberg duel continued in the next two stages. Dani fended off his rival's attacks and kept second place: "I've achieved my aim in this rally. Seb made a decisive break in the opening stages and once again was the quickest this weekend. My role was to bag as many points as possible for Citroen in the Manufacturers' World Championship title, and I also wanted to win my duel with Petter. My second podium on the trot has boosted my confidence for the rest of the season."
Loeb kept up the same pace to score his 58th WRC victory, increasing his lead in the Drivers' World Championship to 51 points: "It's all gone off like a dream, really. We began with a good first day and we consolidated our position on the next one. Today was a bit more relaxed! I like the first Rally Bulgaria! It's got good stages that highlight the qualities of the drivers and the cars. Bravo to Dani who drove a great race."
The first asphalt round of the World Rally Championship allowed the two Citroen Junior Team crews to show their potential. At the end of the Rally Bulgaria, Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia formed part of the historic one-two-three-four formation finish for Citroen, while Kimi Raikkonen and Kaj Lindstrom set some top stage times. Raikkonen and Lindstrom still needed to push to claim 10th place and the one World Championship drivers' point that came with it. As the result of a 10-minute penalty after going off the road at the end of the opening day, Kimi and Kaj started day three in 14th place: 2m 46.5s off the 10th place that was held by Henning Solberg.
On the first stage, the Finns got back more than 40 seconds, followed by another 35 seconds on the following stage. This was enough to place them 11th. "We're pushing hard again today," said Kimi. "Everything went well although I had a slightly strange feeling on the second stage. The team is going to change the front anti-roll bar at service."
Meanwhile, Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia held onto their position. "After losing a minute on the first day, we can't fight with Dani Sordo and Petter Solberg anymore," explained Sebastien. "That's a pity, but it also allows us to concentrate on understanding our Citroen C4 WRC in asphalt specification. We're trying out some settings that maybe we wouldn't have risked if we were in the middle of a tight battle and that's very good for our learning process."
On the final loop of stages, Kimi continued reducing the gap to the top 10 by taking more than 45 seconds from Henning Solberg in Muhovo 2. But the Finn made a small mistake on the final stage and had to settle for 11th overall in the end. "At least we tried!" he said at the finish. "Our feeling with the car was very good throughout the rally and that's extremely positive for what is only our first asphalt event. We keep on learning and I have the feeling that we're making progress now." Sebastien Ogier eventually finished fourth behind three more Citroen C4 WRCs, having set fastest time on the final stage. The Frenchman was able to draw an extremely positive conclusion from the first asphalt rally of the season. "It's a great result for the championship," he said. "We've shown as of now that we're able to fight for a podium on asphalt, which is extremely promising for the rest of the season. Now we're going to concentrate on the forthcoming Rally Finland, which we'll be contesting for the first time with the Citroen Total World Rally Team." final classification?
1. Loeb / Elena Citroen C4 3h02m 39.2s
2. Sordo / Marti Citroen C4 +29.5s
3. P. Solberg / Patterson Citroen C4 +36.3s
4. Ogier / Ingrassia Citroen C4 +1m 55.0s
5. Hirvonen / Lehtinen Ford Focus +3m 17.8s
6. Latvala / Anttila Ford Focus +4m 28.5s
7. Andersson / Andersson Ford Focus +5m 25.2s
8. Turan / Sziros Peugeot 307 +7m 04.0s
9. Wilson / Martin Ford Focus +9m 28.6s
10. H. Solberg / Minor Ford Fiesta +13m 06.0s
11. Raikkonen / Lindstrom Citroen C4 +14m 06.4s