Dirty little secret 2

It’s as camp as one of Elton John’s birthday parties, as slender and nubile as Jabba the Hutt’s sister and more likely to break down than Kate Winslet during an acceptance speech. The Peugeot 307 CC is a car that looks as though part of it was designed to go backwards… the bodywork, mainly.

And yet.

You can forgive it many things when you see one lingering in the classifieds for week after week. Although, deep down, you know that the owner is praying that someone – anyone! – will at least come to test drive it (and that if anyone does so the roof doesn’t get stuck halfway down again), it’s calling to you, isn’t it?

Because while most people look at a 307 CC and wonder who on Earth wants a car specifically designed to turn the world into a roaring vortex of air above 30mph (assuming that the roof has retracted properly in the first place), you see something special in its soap bar styling. You see…

 

Don’t worry. You’re among friends here. Together at WRF you will find kinship and support to get you through the dark days. You filthy perv, you.

A dozen years in the making… Loeb’s astonishing success

So he’s done it. With the 75th WRC victory of his astonishing career, Sébastien Loeb has ensured his ninth consecutive drivers’ championship – with Daniel Elena taking the honours as co-driver for the ninth time and Citroën taking its eighth manufacturers’ crown.

This is not news, of course.

We had all been expecting this result, and once the rally proper got underway on Saturday morning, Loeb did what was needed and built towards the magic 30-second cushion. At the halfway point this was done – not even Colin McRae at his feistiest ever thought that a 30s gap was surmountable if both cars were running well.

The 2012 Rallye de France-Alsace became yet another tour-de-force and thereafter the hyperbole began to spout – as did the detractors who claim that Loeb can’t be compared to (insert the name of your preferred 1970s-1990s icon here) because of the lack of competition in the sport during his reign.

Well… yes and no.

The WRC has crumbled during Loeb’s reign, with only Ford offering any meaningful resistance at all from 2006. But let us not forget that in his early years, Loeb was thrown into the lion’s den.

Astonishing pace defeated all the big names – if not the rules! – on 2002 Monte

The biggest and most successful names of the previous generation may have been getting long in the tooth but the likes of Sainz, McRae, Burns, Makinen, Grönholm, Delecour, Auriol and Panizzi were all very much active when the ‘boy wonder’ appeared in their midst. Loeb even had both Sainz and McRae as team-mates in 2003 and outpaced them both.

Those who say that the WRC became boring in the Loeb/Citroën era also have a point, although that is no fault of the competitors. From the high water mark of seven manufacturers doing battle in 1999-2000 it fell to six in 2001, five in 2004, three in 2006 and two in 2009.

There are also many who decry the metronomic precision with which Loeb and Elena applied themselves to the job – that a scientific, calculated approach is an anathema to going sideways through forests at 100mph. Well, yes, but the thing is that inspirational drivers seldom achieve as much as they should.

2006 title secured with privateer Kronos effort – and a broken arm!

In F1 Ronnie Peterson, Gilles Villeneuve and Jean Alesi won hearts but seldom races and never titles. In rallying Markku Alén never won a pukka world championship and neither did Henri Toivonen. Colin McRae was too inconsistent too repeat his 1995 title despite all the efforts of first Subaru and then Ford.

Pace is one thing, but control is quite another.

Being able to drive within the limits of yourself and your car and still be so far ahead of rivals of the calibre of, say, Marcus Grönholm in the course of season after season, on snow, asphalt and gravel and all the many permutations of the WRC calendar… that is undeniably special.

Four titles came at the wheel of the Citroën C4 WRC

That is why WRF joins the salute to our record-breaking world champion as he seals what might just be his last WRC title. We hope not, because we’re a bit anally retentive and 10 titles is a much better number to retire with than nine.

Perhaps that’s how Seb is going to make it more of a challenge next year – he won the title in 2006 despite missing the last four rounds, so why not skip a few more and still clean up on awards night? After all, when you look at what Loeb has achieved – and Elena and Citroën – it goes far beyond any rational argument to say that it can’t happen.

Loeb holds records for the most championships, rally wins, stage wins, podium finishes and points in WRC history – records of towering achievement that it will take almost a decade for a similarly-accomplished driver to match. To do so would mean the sort of skill that has delivered only 25 retirements from 162 starts, and aside from Loeb, that’s a statistic nobody has achieved.

When you look at it that way, you can only wonder where the likes of Mikko Hirvonen, Petter Solberg and Jari-Matti Latvala have even found the willpower to turn up and offer any sort of resistance over the past few years. They were in the best place to know that, when it comes to Loeb, resistance is futile.

Leaping into the history books in 2012

Félicitations, champion des champions – et bonne chance à l’avenir.

Easy-peasy poll #1: your champion of champions

OK, so we’re taking a liberty here because any poll about the greatest WRC champion of all wouldn’t be worth its salt without Markku Alén or Sandro Munari, so we’re including 1977 and 1978. With that in mind, cast your eyes down these fine specimens of the genus Accelleratii Incredibus and cast your vote for your Champion among Champions.

Sandro Munari, 1977

Markku Alén, 1978

Bjorn Waldegård, 1979

Walter Röhrl, 1980, 1982

Ari Vatanen, 1981

Hannu Mikkola, 1983

Stig Blomqvist, 1984

Timo Salonen, 1985

Juha Kankkunen, 1986, 1987, 1991, 1993

Miki Biasion, 1988-89

Carlos Sainz, 1990, 1992

Didier Auriol, 1994

Colin McRae, 1995

Tommi Mäkinen, 1996-99

Marcus Grönholm, 2000, 2002

Richard Burns, 2001

Petter Solberg, 2003

Sebastien Loeb, 2004-12

WRC 1997 – 2012: a celebration

It’s always worth looking back before moving on…