We start the WRF run-down of the 2012 season – the 40th in the history of the WRC – with the events that filled the calendar: on which a lot of disappointment followed for most people, apart from those at Citroën.
The year began with the most famous rally of them all, Monte Carlo, returned to the WRC calendar for its 80th running after three years of self-imposed exile on the Intercontinental Rally Challenge. This should have been a massive cause for celebration, but because there was nobody promoting the WRC in 2012 it sort of fell on deaf ears.
Unsurprisingly, given the nature of the occasion, Sébastien Loeb was in majestic form and dominated the event on which he had burst onto the WRC stage with his spellbinding drive as a young cub back in 2002. He danced the little DS3 up, down and round the Alpes Maritimes and duly delivered his sixth confirmed win for Citroën in consummate style.
A total of 81 other cars were entered – as per most events of the year – of which Dani Sordo shone for Prodrive’s MINI squad to claim second and the fiery Sébastien Ogier ran hard in the top six at the wheel of his Škoda Fabia S2000 entered by Volkswagen Racing. Jari-Matti Latvala had a short run of blistering speed in his works Ford but crashed, while incoming team-mate Petter Solberg played it conservatively and got told off by team principal Malcolm Wilson, who felt that manufacturer points were of secondary importance at this stage in the season.
The Rally Sweden brought four leaders through the course of the WRC’s all-snow event – none of whom were called Loeb, who shunted on SS7 and finished sixth sfter restarting. Latvala took victory for Ford, leading former team-mate turned Citroën number 2 Mikko Hirvonen. Mads Østberg completed the podium in his Adapta-prepared Ford.
Onward to the heat and dust of Mexico, where things all looked rather more familiar with Loeb and Elena claiming their sixth win on the event. Hirvonen finished second and Solberg third after Latvala crashed heavily when he thought that the M-Sport Fiesta of Evgeny Novikov was stranded on the stage. It wasn’t, but he still went off just in case.
In Portugal an uncharacteristic opening day shunt put Loeb out of the running and gave Mikko Hirvonen an open goal for his first Citroën win. Unfortunately, however, the post-event scrutineers found that his car didn’t match up to expectations and so victory passed to Østberg after a sterling performance from the young Norwegian, who picked up the Ford baton when the works Fiestas of Latvala and Solberg crashed out on consecutive stages.
In Argentina, Loeb charged from fourth in the early running to take yet another victory, this time in front of Hirvonen and Østberg on a 700km ‘endurance’ event that the Frenchman openly disliked. Jari-Matti Latvala was sidelined from the works Ford squad with a broken collarbone from a skiing accident, with Dani Sordo deputising for him and retiring on the final day. Solberg led the early stages but shunted.
The Citroën steamroller flattened the Acropolis, with Loeb leading Hirvonen home to another 1-2 finish in Greece, with Latvala returning to take third. In New Zealand Loeb headed home in front of Hirvonen once again, this time with Solberg finishing third.
In Finland both Latvala and Solberg stayed the course, thus they finished in third and fourth places, while Loeb led Hirvonen home in yet another Citroën 1-2.
For those still awake at the back, that’s where the 2012 WRC was won: four gravel rallies in a row with four successive 1-2 results for Citroën.
Switching to asphalt and the Rallye Deutschland saw Loeb victorious once again, with Latvala slipping through past Hirvonen to take second. Latvala has focused a tremendous amount of energy on his asphalt driving… which is nice.
The 80th Rally GB was without doubt one of the disappointments of the season, being pushed back from its role as a season-ending spectacular of fog, snow and mud to become just another late summer gravel event and thus drawing an entry of just 31 cars. It was something of a ‘home’ victory parade at the end for Ford’s charger Latvala, who remembered how to drive on gravel, while Loeb held out for second after a great scrap with Solberg.
All this meant that Loeb only really had to turn up for his home event, the Rallye de France-Alsace, in order to seal his ninth and Citroën’s eighth WRC crown. He did show up and duly won, while in his wake Petter Solberg had one of the most remarkable accidents in recent WRC history, when he tore through a vineyard, the spectator areas and took down a power line all in one accident – fortunately without injury.
The Rally Italia-Sardegna saw Loeb take time off from dominance and celebrate his record-making title success with a little crash. Latvala also crashed, and Solberg hit a rock, leaving Hirvonen unmolested for his first Citroën win ahead of M-Sport youngsters Novikov and Ott Tänak.
And finally we had the RACC Rallye de España – with gravel on the opening day and asphalt for the balance of the event, this year with lashings of rain. Loeb ground out another masterful victory, Latvala didn’t crash and therefore beat Hirvonen to second place. Solberg did crash on the first day, but in the big picture it was all a bit academic.
And that was the 2012 season in a nutshell. In Part 2 we have the teams.