Early in this year’s World Rally Championship, people weren’t asking if Sebastien Loeb would win the title again, but if he would win every event.
With two thirds of the season to run, what was unimaginable earlier has happened. Loeb has dropped from the points lead.
Sebastien Loeb started the season with five consecutive wins in dominant fashion but has suffered accidents in the last three, and has even failed to reach the podium in the last two.
Mikko Hirvonen has passed Loeb and now has a one-point lead in the World Rally Championship after clinching victory in the Rally Poland.
"This has been the best rally of the season so far," said 28-year-old Hirvonen. "The roads here are fast and narrow and the crowds provided a superb atmosphere. It's the first time I have won two consecutive rallies and it has put me into the lead of the championship ahead of my home rally in Finland. The weekend was perfect from start to finish. After Loeb's mistake on Friday, I thought I might have an easy drive but it wasn't to be. I had to drive flat out yesterday to stay ahead and it's a fantastic feeling to win after such a great fight.”
Hirvonen began the final leg 12 seconds up on his BP Ford Abu Dhabi teammate, Jari-Matti Latvala, but finished over a minute ahead, after his compatriot crashed out in the final stage, the short 2.5 kilometer Mikolajki super special.
"It was my mistake," admitted a distraught Latvala. "I wasn't driving too quickly but I turned into the bend too early and clipped an oil barrel which was full of sand. The impact broke the steering and I couldn't turn into the next bend and hit the barrier on the opposite side of the road. I've let down the team and damaged Ford's dream of winning the manufacturers' title this year."
A determined Latvala and co-driver Anttila tried to push the car to the finish of the stage and completed a whole lap before being forced to stop and retire. Latvala's late crash hurt the BP Ford Abu Dhabi Team, which had been on course for another 1-2 and a third maximum 18-point haul in succession.
Citroen Total World Rally Team’s Dani Sordo took advantage of Latvala’s mistake and finished second.
The Solberg brothers Henning and Petter ended the Rally Poland third and fourth respectively, both having gained not only from Latvala's exit, but also from the retirement of Sebastien Ogier. Ogier had been in front until he had engine problems in SS16.
Rounding out the top five was Stobart Ford driver Matthew Wilson, followed by local hero and Stobart Ford "guest driver" Krzysztof Holowczyc and then Sebastien Loeb.
Loeb re-started under the SuperRally rules on Saturday after crashing out in SS4. He clawed back with help, up to take two drivers' points and three manufacturers' points for Citroen. Citroen Junior Team men, Conrad Rautenbach and Evgeny Novikov both slowed to allow the Frenchman to pass. Rautenbach and Novikov came in eighth and ninth.
Hirvonen will now go to his home event in Finland at the end of next month, following the summer break, with a one point advantage over Sebastien Loeb in the drivers' standings.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Mikko Hirvonen Ford 3h07m27.5s
2. Dani Sordo Citroen + 1m10.3s
3. Henning Solberg Ford + 2m05.7s
4. Petter Solberg Citroen + 2m24.3s
5. Matthew Wilson Ford + 4m17.5s
6. Krzysztof Holowczyc Ford + 4m33.9s
7. Sebastien Loeb Citroen + 19m15.1s
8. Conrad Rautenbach Citroen + 19m20.6s
9. Evgeny Novikov Citroen + 19m26.2s
10. Michal Bebenek Mitsubishi + 23m08.7s
Quote & Photo: BP Ford Abu Dhabi