Sweden team-by-team

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Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team

1 Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena – 8/10

A disastrous qualifying stage left Loeb out in the cold in Sweden, and he only got to show his true pace on the final morning. He was able to kick great lumps out of Ogier’s lead but the damage was done. Worryingly for Citroën, the man who is only contesting four events this year was the only one to take any points away from Scandinavia.

2 Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen – 3/10

Disaster begat disaster for Hirvo on an event to forget. The WRC now moves to a string of gravel events, where he knows he has to deliver event wins.

Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team

4 Mads Østberg/Jonas Andersson – 8/10

Not-very-mad-Mads was back again, driving his second event at the head of the M-Sport squad in conservative style. He did enough to be the fastest non-Sébastien on the event, but the hoped-for sparkle was notably absent.

5 Evgeny Novikov/Ilka Minor – 6/10

Novikov had his sensible head on and drove a quiet rally to reach the finish. It’s not what he’s known for, but it keeps the repair bills down a bit.

Qatar World Rally Team

6 Matthew Wilson/Giovanni Bernacchini – 1/10

Last-minute substitution for an indisposed Nasser Al-Attiyah, Matthew wasn’t very fast and then crashed.

11 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul – 7/10

Neuville bounced back from his Monte disappointment to put in a strong performance and to record the longest jump at Colin’s Crest.

15 Juho Hänninen/Tomi Tuominen – 6/10

Officially that’s the end of the road for the former IRC champion… but you can expect to see him back in an M-Sport car before long. Didn’t sparkle as much as many had hoped in the snow, but unless your name is Sébastien not many people did.

Volkswagen Motorsport

7 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Antilla – 7/10

Latvala took a measured approach and delivered a solid finish.  Losing out on the podium to the Mads Østberg in what used to be his team-leading car at M-Sport was cruel. Ogier has delivered Volkswagen’s debut victory, so the pressure is not going to decrease on the likeable Finn.

8 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia – 10/10

A fantastic drive, with a relaxed and happy Ogier revelling in being the fastest Sébastien for the majority of the event. His eighth win at the sport’s top level was taken in style, and of course he now has his name in the record books as the first man to guide a Volkswagen to overall victory in the WRC. Throw in a strong position in the WRC points and the weekend could scarcely have gone better.

Abu Dhabi Citroën Total World Rally Team

10 Khalid Al Qassimi/Scott Martin – 1/10

AL Qassimi doesn’t have much in life that he really needs to worry about. Which must be nice.

14 Dani Sordo/Carlos Del Barrio – 3/10

Sordo is handy on asphalt. This was a snow rally. Wasn’t stellar.

Lotos Team WRC

14 Michál Kosciuszko/Maciek Szczepaniak – 4/10

It’s hard to tell whether the likeable Pole is good, bad or indifferent. So we’ll reserve judgement.

Jipocar Czech National Team

21 Martin Prokop/Michal Ernst – 7/10

Prokop used his experience to good effect and popped up into the points for the second time.

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Sweden final: Ogier seals Volkswagen victory

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Sébastien Ogier withstood an early burst of pace on the final morning from nine-time champion Sébastien Loeb’s Citroën to claim the first victory for the new Volkswagen team and its Polo R WRC car on the Rally Sweden.

“This morning Sebastien was putting a lot of pressure on. He was flying into the stages. We tried to follow him without maximum risk but we had to push because he was so fast,” said a delighted Ogier. “To win like that is amazing.”

To keep things symmetrical, Mads Østberg held out to take third place in the M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC, putting the three main teams in the top three places. Which is nice. The young Norwegian kept the second Volkswagen of Jari-Matti Latvala off the podium.

Fifth to ninth places were all taken by M-Sport built Fiesta WRCs. Tenth overall and first in WRC2 was claimed by the M-Sport built Fiesta RRC of Saudi driver Yazeed Al Rajhi.

There was jubillation for Ogier at his eighth WRC win and for the  landmark first victory of the €100 million Volkswagen effort. At Citroën the disappointment of Loeb losing out from poor road position earlier in the rally was compounded by the complete absence of his team-mates from the action. With Loeb only taking part in four events, the pressure is on team leader Mikko Hirvonen and his team-mate Dani Sordo to take the fight to VW – and neither man shone in Sweden.

Sweden Part 1: Ogier in control

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Volkswagen Motorsport can breathe a sigh of relief as its star man Sébastien Ogier has won all but two of the eight stages so far on the Rally Sweden in his Polo R WRC. He stands just over half a minute ahead of the Citroën DS3 WRC of overnight leader and nine-time champion Sébastien Loeb, who in turn stated that the increasing gap to Ogier is down to the younger man’s pace.

Just 1.7 seconds behind Loeb at the end of Friday’s running is the second Volkswagen of Jari-Matti Latvala. Fourth place is held by the M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC of  Mads Østberg as the Norwegian recovers from a 20 second penalty to make his bid for the podium in one of his strongest events of the year.

Østberg is in good cheer. More so than Citroën team leader Mikko Hirvonen, who earned a full 50 seconds as his penalty applied to for arriving late at the third time control – caused by rolling his Fiesta at the start of the second stage. Hirvonen ended the day with a fastest stage time, but has an uphill struggle to reach the points.

Østberg leads a phalanx of Fiestas in which his team-mate in the Qatar-sponsored M-Sport squad, Evgeny Novikov, is holding off local hero Pontus Tidemand in his PDS-entered example. Behind the Swede is Finnish ace Juho Hänninen in another Qatar-funded entry from Thierry Neuville in the fourth of five cars under M-Sport’s banner. Two privately-entered Fiestas round out the top 10 with Henning Solberg keeping ahead of Martin Prokop.

A much larger entry for the main WRC class has ensured that plenty of runners are scratching their heads and trying to work out a way into the points. Former MINI WRC team leader Dani Sordo for one, in his Citroën, albeit considerably closer to the points than the Abu Dhabi team’s sponsor Khalid Al Qassimi in the fourth Citroën.

Matthew Wilson’s run in M-Sport’s entry for their Qatari sponsor Nasser Al-Attiyah is also going to require Lazarus-like qualities to get a sniff of the points. So too is the lone privateer MINI of Michal Koszciuszko.

At the sharp end of WRC2, meanwhile, Sweden is delivering an event that favours the grunty, stable and stolid production cars over the flighty S2000-based machines. Norway’s Anders Grǿndal has a 34 second advantage after eight stages, his Subaru Impreza holding sway over the Fiesta RRC of Saudi Arabian driver Yazeed Al Rajhi.

Monte team-by-team

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Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team

1 Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena – 10/10

Loeb did enough on the opening day to prove that none of the full-time contenders for his vacant WRC throne has got anything like the same speed, then settled cheerfully into a rhythm that was still fractionally faster than anyone else in the event. Fair to say that whoever wins the 2013 title will not be the greatest rally driver in the world.

2 Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen – 6/10

Monte has never been an event on which Hirvo has shone. He is a gravel man, and gets through events like this with gritted teeth and bloody-mindedness. A bright start on the opening day quickly gave way to grumpily plodding along complaining about his tyre choices and lack of confidence, but he kept his head and was duly promoted when other guys aimed higher and ran out of talent.

Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team

4 Mads Østberg/Jonas Andersson – 6/10

Not-very-mad-Mads was almost totally anonymous for much of the Monte, trundling along in the bottom third of the top 10. It made sense to be cautious and play the long game on an event that didn’t quite have enough snow to suit him, but when the conditions were right he showed the sort of pace that delivered those podiums in 2012. Sweden should be fun.

5 Evgeny Novikov/Ilka Minor – 4/10

Right up until the last day, Novikov was the star of the rally. He delivered a swashbuckling performance that thrilled and terrified onlookers in equal measure, surviving numerous scares until he came to grief against a wall. The thing is, you could write the same about Cyprus in 2009 or, indeed, most events of his career. Leopards, spots etc. – looks like an expensive year ahead for M-Sport.

Qatar World Rally Team

7 Juho Hänninen/Tomi Tuominen – 5/10

With only two events in which to prove he deserves a full-time WRC drive, Juho started brightly as the fastest of the Fords, despite having just one day in the car before the start of the event. You would expect a former IRC and SWRC champion to adapt quickly and he didn’t disappoint. He then slowed to try and reach the finish, lost too much ground and crashed trying to make it up. But with Juho these things aren’t habitual.

11 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul – 4/10

Neuville has the backing of team sponsor Nasser Al-Attiyah, who brought the young Belgian with him from Citroën. Up to now Neuville has had a few shunts but also shown some good speed. He did both in the space of two days on the Monte, making himself the first man to retire from the event. Not perhaps the result that anyone wanted.

Volkswagen Motorsport

7 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Antilla – 3/10

Jari-Matti started the Monte somewhat adrift from the pace, hovering at the bottom of the Top 10 and looking rather lost. Then something clicked and he went a bit faster. Then he crashed. Only his hesitance at the start of the event was unfamiliar.

8 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia – 8/10

It’s fair to say that Ogier was in a class of his own. It’s a class above the rest of the full-time runners of 2013 but still not able to sit at the same table as that other Sébastien bloke. Ogier may rant and rail that Loeb is irrelevant to the title – but he wouldn’t be saying that if he had been faster than the reigning champion. VW will be pleased with its star man, though – and deservedly so.

Abu Dhabi Citroën Total World Rally Team

10 Dani Sordo/Carlos Del Barrio – 7/10

It was hard to believe that this was the same driver who hauled that big-ass MINI Countryman with such verve in Monte Carlo a year earlier. Reunited with Citroën and having had the benefit of driving every one of the current generation WRC cars except the Polo, Sordo should have been in position to take the fight to Ogier at least. Instead he had to wait for Novikov to bin it before reaching the podium.

Lotos Team WRC

12 Michál Kosciuszko/Maciek Szczepaniak – 5/10

A small team trying to do all 13 events on a meagre budget, they needed to finish the Monte in the top 10. They did so, but more than half an hour behind the front-runners with an S2000 Škoda and a Group N Mitsubishi in front of them… this could be a long season in so many ways.

Jipocar Czech National Team

21 Martin Prokop/Michal Ernst – 7/10

Prokop isn’t the fastest man in the WRC but he tries hard and occasionally things go his way. With DMACK tyres he has traded pace for budget, but so long as sufficient works cars go off in front of him he’s got to be looking at repeating his seventh place finish quite regularly in his 11-round season.

Bryan Bouffier

22 Bryan Bouffier/Xavier Panseri – 6/10

Bouffier is a decent journeyman who pops up in all sorts of machinery, but he’s good on the Monte and won it in 2011, the last time it was held under the auspices of the IRC. He arrived with what was effectively the fourth works Citroën and wearing the nattiest livery of them all, but something somewhere didn’t ignite and he pottered round without causing drama or offence.

Julien Maurin

24 Julien Maurin/Nicolas Klinger – 3/10

Privateer Ford entry. Went out on SS10 when in contention for tenth place. Nothing more to add.

Aaaaaargh! It’s Ken Block!

Blocks new digs

Not enough action for you in Monte Carlo? Well fear not, rally fans, because Ken Block is returning to the WRC to bend more Ford Fiestas. Hooray!

For the second year running Block has announced that he will make three WRC outings at the wheel of an M-Sport Fiesta, naming his section of the Dovenby squad’s service area as the Hoonigan Racing Division.

“Once again, I’m trying to fit in as much driving as possible,” explained Block.“Unlike most drivers who only compete in one series, I’m very fortunate to be able to race in so many different disciplines. Between competing in X Games, Global RallyCross, Rally America, Gymkhana GRID and WRC, It’s going to be an awesome year. I can’t wait to get it started.”

Is it just us, or is The Block looking increasingly like Beaker from The Muppets? Anyway, a new livery featuring a lot of bright blue instead of his traditional fluorescent yellow-y green apparently signifies Block’s new Hoonigan thing, although his sponsor line-up of DC trainers and Monster energy drink remains unchanged…

“With the name change to Hoonigan Racing Division, we wanted to take the look in a slightly different direction, one that has been inspired by my love of 80s and early 90s skateboarding graphics, as well as Miami Vice-era offshore powerboats and a dash of hair metal and old school hip hop mixed in for good measure.”

We can’t wait.

Monte Final: Loeb’s victory parade cut short

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A cathartic final day on the Monte Carlo Rally ended early but the result was entirely familiar, with Sébastien Loeb winning and a couple of damaged Ford Fiestas. Massive crowds caused the abandonment of the final two stages on the grounds of safety, allowing the celebrations to start early in the Citroën camp…

Two of three runs through the Col de Turini were completed and these ultimately defined the day: the legendary asphalt being a coated in a treacherous mixture of ice and slush. On the first run through it was 2011 Monte winner Bryan Bouffier who set the pace – such as it was, averaging just 37mph. That was a clear indication that this was not going to be a day for swashbuckling charges – and perhaps inevitably meant that Evgeny Novikov would be the first man to crash out.

M-Sport’s young Russian was the hero of the day yesterday, but ended up a forlorn figure on Turini standing beside his three-wheeled Fiesta after knocking the left rear off. Novikov had ridden his luck hard to get that far, but soon enough Jari-Matti Latvala also notched up his first retirement with Volkswagen, and then Juho Hänninen’s first run in an M-Sport Fiesta  came to a sudden halt as well.

So it was that Citroën was to see the greatest possible profit from this chaos, with works team leader Mikko Hirvonen finding himself promoted back to fourth and the works-supported entry of Bouffier getting a boost to fifth – positions they held until the premature finish.

Of the top five positions, four ultimately belonged to the French team. Only Sébastien Ogier’s Volkswagen, in second place, prevented a whitewash for Citroën on the world’s most famous rally, which it has long treated as a home event. M-Sport team leader Mads Østberg brought his Fiesta home in sixth, some way behind, with Martin Prokop’s DMACK-shod Fiesta entered by the Czech national team claiming seventh.

WRC2 winner Sepp Wiegand finished eighth overall in his Škoda Fabia S2000. WRC3 winner Sébastien Chardonnet – the last man standing among the 2WD contenders – claimed 13th overall in his Citroën.

So it is that Sébastien Loeb starts 2013 as he ended 2012 – at the top of the WRC points table. Citroën has also done better than it could have hoped in accumulating manufacturers’ points. Sébastien Ogier might not have had anything in his arsenal to contend with his nemesis in Monte Carlo, but can take solace in the points cushion he holds over Hirvonen and Østberg, his two most likely challengers over the full 13 rounds of the 2013 WRC season.

Monte Part 6: Shiny, happy people…

Ostberg closed Day 3 with his first stage win

Ostberg closed Day 3 with his first stage win

Sisteron is an emblematic stage and it closed the third day’s action in the Alpes Maritimes. Despite extremely icy conditions, almost everyone came through with a smile on their face. All except Mikko Hirvonen…

Sébastien Loeb was happy to have nudged a second or two further away from anyone else. But with his Citroën more than 90 seconds ahead after 13 stages, it’s all fairly academic. In second place, Volkswagen’s star Sébastien Ogier is also a picture of contentment, choosing to ignore Loeb’s very existence and focus instead on his own 90-second advantage over Evgeny Novikov in third.

The young Russian charger has been spectacular throughout, and by putting his M-Sport Fiesta in contention for a podium he is doing all that Malcolm Wilson could ask. He gets the quote of the day award, too, for stating that it had been ‘a fine day’. Presumably he is honing his ENglish skills from watching 1950s war movies and will soon appear in the service park smoking a pipe and with a spaniel skipping along at his heels.

Novikov’s ascent was aided by Dani Sordo having a spin in his Citroën. Nevertheless, Novikov had been hauling him in at a furious pace, so the Spaniard was fairly sanguine about it all.

Joy was unbounded for fifth placed Jari-Matti Latvala, however, in the second Volkswagen. Although the Polo has escaped damage in what has been a remarkably hesitant first event for the former Ford team leader, Sisteron was the first time he looked competitive all weekend and by bagging the second fastest time through the stage he also swept past Citroën team leader Mikko Hirvonen.

Hirvo was the most glum of the front runners. on a particularly icy day which brought out the Finn’s cautious side. He explained that he had spent so much time on the brakes that they overheated, dropping still more time to let his countryman and former team-mate Latvala through into fifth place.

Juho Hänninen holds eighth in his M-Sport car, making his the second best Fiesta so far on the event – a good reason to be cheerful in his first event at the wheel of a contemporary WRC car. The Finn’s margin over his team leader Mads Østberg is nevertheless depleted after the young Norwegian bagged his first stage win with a fine drive through Sisteron. The top 10 is completed by the works-supported Citroën of Bryan Bouffier and the Czech-entered Fiesta of Martin Prokop.

Young German ace Sepp Wiegand continued on his way towards WRC2 victory in the Škoda Fabia S2000 despite an electrical gremlin. The sole surviving WRC3 entrant, Sébastien Chardonnet, was meanwhile having plenty of fun in his Citroën DS3 R3T after putting spikes on the front wheels and finding the handling so good that his time was good enough to beat most of the 4WD WRC2 cars!