Last weekend was a crucial one in, arguably the most exciting season in the WRC for a long time. (I don't care what the misery guts say....I know you lot argue that Hirvonen only has a chance through Loeb’s mistakes...but duh that’s what sport is all about!).
Anyway, with just three rallies left Mikko Hirvonen was only three points ahead of his arch rival Sebastian Loeb. For both drivers then, the rally of Australia was a crucial one.
Seb did exactly what was needed to keep his title hopes very much alive. The Frenchman was unstoppable and thanks to some great driving and excellent Citroen tactics the reigning World Champion conquered the new stages of New South Wales.
Mikko drove his Focus to the limits and was clearly showing the immense pressure he must be feeling; nevertheless the Fin did exactly what was needed of him and came in a strong second.
I thought the rally was fantastic; it was exciting, tense, and by the end of it all the Championship contenders were separated by just one point! However, then came the news that Citroen would be penalised when post event scrutineering found that Loeb's Citroen C4 WRC was fitted with a front anti-roll bar link which did not comply with the homologation form of the car.
Citroen agreed with the steward's findings and Loeb, Sordo, and Ogier were each given a one minute penalty. This meant that Hirvonen gained P1 and Loeb was set back to P2.
I can't really explain how I felt when I heard this news. The Hirvonen fan in me was delighted as the Fin’s new five point lead was extremely welcome. However, the Loeb fan in me felt slightly cheated; after all that excitement and hard work the Frenchman had been let down by his team.
This makes the next round in Spain even more crucial than had previously been thought. This is also where I think the most important man in the 2009 WRC Championship battle will help decide the final standings either way.
For me it all comes down to Sordo this year; to a great extent the young Spaniard has the title in his hands and is one of Sebastian's last chances in 2009 of re-writing the record books again.
In 2008 Citroen dominated the Spanish event and although last year it wasn’t as important, if Dani can wedge his way in between Sebastian and Mikko again the Championship will go right to the wire, which in my opinion can only be a good thing for the WRC.
The promising young Citroen number two has had a mixed 2009. A great start in Ireland with a P2 was followed by mixed results with another P2 in Argentina and a P23 in Italy. Since his P12 finish in Greece, Sordo has really worked hard and showed us the raw pace he has, finishing no lower than fourth in the last three rallies.
In Australia, Sordo was great with four stage wins and an eventual P3 finish. Last year Loeb and Sordo were untouchable and strong performances from the BP Ford team were no match for the C4's raw pace.
If Sordo can take his speed and consistency from New South Wales to his home event, this, coupled with Citroen's expected dominance of the black stuff, will make the 2009 Season even better than I previously thought!
I do realise that when all is said and done, if the British Rally gives us the same results as last year, (Loeb P1 and Hirvonen P8), all this pontificating about Spain is pointless. That’s the thing I love about Rally, there are so many aspects to take into consideration and the smallest error could cost you the Championship. However, Mikko did a great job to fight back to P8 after his day one crash and don't forget his win in 2007. If both Sebastian and Mikko have eventless rallies in Wales they should finish first and second.
If we think like that, Spain is truly the most important rally of the season. For me, if Mikko can even get P2 the Championship is his to lose in Wales. But if Sebastian and Sordo can get Citroen’s third one two finish of 2009 in Catalunya, just one tantalising point will be the difference into the final event of the year. I’m almost certain after his performance in Australia that Seb has the talent to do his job and win the rally. The Question is can Dani keep Mikko on that third step of the podium?
As I say I love the WRC and there are no drivers I dislike. I have three favourite drivers this season and two of them are in the Title battle. Perhaps if you pushed me I’d tell you that Mikko is my top driver and for that reason I’d like to see him crowned Champion in Wales. However, I believe that Sebastian’s performance in Australia earned him a shot at the title decider in the final round; realistically, this is only possible if Citroen can get that one two in October.
Therefore, as of now, it’s not just up to Mikko and Sebastian but more to the man who could now be the most significant driver in the 2009 WRC Title...Dani Sordo!