LOEB CLINCHES RECORD 9TH WRC; ATKINSON 8TH IN FRANCE

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LOEB CLINCHES RECORD 9TH WRC; ATKINSON 8TH IN FRANCE

(WRC.com) SEBASTIEN Loeb and Daniel Elena secured their ninth FIA World Rally Championship crown – and Citroen’s eighth manufacturers’ title – with WRC career victory number 75 on Rallye de France Alsace yesterday.

In emotional scenes after the final stage in his hometown of Haguenau, Loeb and co-driver Elena celebrated victory by 15.5 seconds over factory Ford driver Jari-Matti Latvala.

With rounds of the 2012 series still to run in Italy and Spain, the pair has an unbeatable points total, ensuring an extraordinary record nine consecutive titles in an FIA championship and marking Loeb as one of the most successful drivers in motorsport history.

“It’s incredible. We were dreaming about this moment at the start of the rally having lived this two years ago,” Loeb said.

“Now we are here again with the victory and the championship in front of all these wonderful people. It’s not possible to get better than this.

“It was a dream all weekend in front of all these fans. We couldn’t believe the atmosphere two years ago, it was amazing then and it’s amazing now.”

With rain affecting the final morning loop of three stages and mud and damp sections a constant menace in the afternoon, Loeb, Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen – in the second factory Citroen and the only driver capable of denying Loeb the title – drove cautiously to finish in that order, a result that thrilled Latvala.

“To be honest it is my best tarmac result,” said the Finn.

“I have never ever been so close to Sebastien Loeb on a tarmac rally if you think about the overall gap, so I need to be happy.”

Citroen Junior driver Thierry Neuvile was less circumspect than the leading trio, claiming five stage wins as he climbed from sixth to fourth in impressive fashion, demoting Mads Ostberg and Dani Sordo in the process.

Ford Fiesta pilot Ostberg took fifth – his best result on asphalt – but Sordo dropped out after a heavy impact on the sump guard of his MINI John Cooper Works WRC moved the power steering pump, resulting in failure on the Haguenau street stage.

Ott Tanak won the Power Stage to claim a strong sixth overall. M-Sport Fiesta team-mate Evgeny Novikov lost almost three minutes on stage 18 when he rolled into a field, but recovered to finish seventh.

Australians Chris Atkinson and Glenn Macneall finished eighth for WRC Team MINI Portugal in their first WRC event together since they were Subaru teammates in 2007.

It was another strong result for Atkinson, after fifth in Germany and 11th in Britain in his return to regular WRC competition for the first time since 2008.

Former world champion Petter Solberg restarted yesterday following a crash on day two but finished outside the top 20 in his works Ford.

With Loeb retreating to a partial WRC campaign with Citroen in 2013, the following statistics demonstrate the French legend’s impact on the sport and the success he and Elena have achieved since they first emerged on the world stage back in 2001.

Loeb’s WRC career in numbers:

9: World titles shared with co-driver Daniel Elena

75: Number of WRC event wins

2: Rallies remaining before he calls time on full-time WRC career

162: Number of WRC starts to date

1999: Year of Loeb’s WRC debut in Catalunya

4: Rounds missed after breaking shoulder in 2006 – he still claimed the title

874: Fastest stage times set

1525: WRC points scored

23: Different world championship rallies won

6: Record held by Loeb for most WRC event wins in a row, achieved twice

2002: Year of Loeb’s first WRC victory – Rallye Deutschland

11: Round victories scored during the 2008 season

3: Types of Citroen World Rally Cars he has driven to victory

1: Number of co-drivers employed during WRC career