WRC: Spain, Australia
The penultimate round of the World Rally Championship (WRC) in Catalunya saw rally legend Sébastien Loeb return to the top spot after five long years
It was quite a spectacular round in Spain, where the nine-time World Rally Champion and French ace, Sébastien Loeb, claimed his first WRC victory in five years and his first Spanish triumph in seven years. The veteran had a clean and consistent run right from the beginning and it was this consistency that led him to victory in his Citroën.
As rally Catalunya kicked off, it was defending champion Sébastien Ogier who had the upper hand as he won SS1 with 3.7 seconds between him and the leader, Thierry Neuville of Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT . However, on SS3, the gravel stage, Ott Tänak of Toyota Gazoo Racing took the lead. He was followed by his teammate, Jari-Matti Latvala, in second and Elfyn Evans of M-Sport Ford in third. By this time, Sébastien Loeb was running ninth.
By SS4, however, Loeb had moved up the order into sixth and Ott Tänak was still leading the way. Ogier, who was running ahead, slowly fell back and by the end of the first day he was in seventh. The order after the first seven stages was as follows: Ott Tänak in the lead, followed by local hero Dani Sordo of Hyundai in second, Elfyn Evans in third, Loeb in fourth, and Latvala in fifth.
Tänak started the second day with a solid lead of 26.8 seconds. A few stages later, however, he dropped to ninth with Dani Sordo emerging as the new leader. By SS 12, Latvala had taken the lead from Sordo and Loeb was now running in third. By the end of the day, Latvala managed to retain the lead; however, Ogier made a superb comeback and was now just 4.7 seconds behind Latvala. Loeb, too, had a good and consistent run which saw the former champion end day two in third.
The final day started quite well for Loeb as he gained the lead in the opening stage itself. As the day progressed, Loeb continued to defend his lead from a fast-charging Ogier. Latvala, who was leading earlier, ran into more trouble as he suffered from a puncture on SS17, effectively ending his chances of chasing victory. As the day came to an end, it was Loeb who grabbed his first WRC win after five years. Ogier came home in second, which saw him regain the championship lead by a mere three points. Elfyn Evans took the final podium spot, followed by Thierry Neuville in fourth with local hero Dani Sordo completing the top five.