Loeb: masterly to the last

Before the start of this, his final event as a full-time WRC driver, Sébastien Loeb joked that ‘maybe one day’ someone would beat him in Spain. The thing is that we knew, just as well as he did, that re-floating the Titanic would be more likely.

And lo it came to pass that the nine-time world champion cruised to his 76th WRC victory little troubled by anyone else’s comings or goings. Day One on gravel with the accompaniment of biblical rainfall might have belonged to the Fiesta of Norway’s Mads Østberg, but Loeb stayed on his shoulder in the Citroën DS3. When Mads threw his car off the road early on the second day, Loeb shimmied through into a lead that never looked in danger from that moment to the rally’s end.

Dani Sordo may have been his usual inspired self on the asphalt stages that followed – but he had crashed out on the opening day, and was just entertaining his home fans. Jari-Matti Latvala pushed as hard as he dared on asphalt in his final performance with the works Ford squad, but second place was all that he could realistically hope for – and he delivered. His result ensured third place in the points standings as Ford quietly exits the WRC and the Finn moves to Volkswagen for 2013.

So many people scuppered themselves from potentially strong performances that Mikko Hirvonen, who trundled through the rally in as inoffensive a manner as he could, managed to ensure that his second Citroën pipped a recovering Østberg to the final step on the podium.

Jarkko Nikara ended up as the best-placed MINI

Almost a quarter of an hour after the big guns were finished, two of the big stars of the 2012 RACC Rally de España completed their event. Finnish young gun Jarkko Nikara had sold his famous green Mintsubishi Lancer Evo IX to pay for a drive in Prodrive’s MINI WRC, and claimed fifth overall. A couple of minutes further back was the SWRC Fiesta S2000 of all-Irish crew Craig Breen and Paul Nagle, delivering an inspired performance to claim class honours and put many of the WRC regulars to shame.

Craig Breen and Paul Nagle did stellar work in the Fiesta S2000

But we’ll leave the final words to the nine-time champion, for whom this weekend marks the end of a record of unbroken achievement that nobody in top-level motor sport – nor indeed any major sporting undertaking – can truly compare with.

“A big thank you to everyone, I’m pleased to finish the season and more or less my rallying career with a win,” an emotional Loeb said on the team radio as he completed his final stage.

“Once again, we had to fight to get the win, as the unpredictable weather didn’t really make our task any easier. We’ll all enjoy this result together. Thank you, thank you for everything we’ve experienced together. This marks the close of one chapter, but we’ve another ahead of us that is about to begin.”

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