The sun rises, the seasons change, the tides turn, Sebastien Loeb wins again on Rallye Deutschland, and all is well with the world. It seems that the most successful racing driver in history is fast becoming a force of nature.
Another day brings yet another triumph for Monsieur invincible. Sebastien Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena made it five consecutive wins and stamped their authority yet again on the rest of the field in the 2012 WRC. In fact, the duo has utterly blown away all opposition this year, with their victory in Germany marking their seventh win out of nine rallies this season. Complete dominance, even by the flying Frenchman’s high standards.
Flying out of the traps early on, as he does so often, Loeb won the opening stage and never looked back, holding the lead until the very end in challenging weather conditions. The man may be a wizard at the wheel of his DS3, but nine was the magic number for the Citroën number one in Germany. He posted nine fastest times out of fifteen stages, earning him an unprecedented ninth win on an event that was only celebrating its tenth anniversary on the WRC calendar this year! No driver in history has ever held such an iron grip over one rally. Of course in Loeb’s eyes, that solitary 2011 defeat to fellow countryman Sebastien Ogier will be seen as a minor catastrophe. And remember that magic number; there is a fair chance that it could crop up again come the end of the season if the current eight times world champion has his way.
It is easy to get carried away by the unrelenting Loeb bandwagon but we must not forget those unfortunate enough to be caught in its wake. The unenviable task of reeling in Citroën’s hefty championship lead once again fell at the feet of Jari-Matti Latvala and his Ford colleague Petter Solberg. However, only Latvala was able to make any real inroads, guiding his Fiesta home in a distant second behind Loeb, whilst Solberg finished up outside the points in eleventh after crashing out from second on day two. Citroën number two Mikko Hirvonen benefited from other’s mistakes and was quite fortunate to land himself the final podium spot on the back of an uninspiring performance. The same treacherous stage that took Solberg’s scalp also put pay to the hopes of Mini’s Dani Sordo and Citroën junior driver Thierry Neuville, pushing them both well down the finishing order. Meanwhile, Mads Ostberg produced another unspectacular but steady display to take fourth place as he continues to earn his stripes at the top level.
All of this may actually seem a little irrelevant right now, as a quick glance at the championship standings would suggest. Loeb bagged maximum points on the Power Stage to add to his already bulging total and now leads the pack by a hansom 54 points heading in to Wales Rally GB.
Critics argue that this kind of sheer domination, or the Loeb effect as it should be called, is paralyzing the sport. And they have a point. Since the heady days of titanic clashes between the likes of Subaru, Mitsubishi and Peugeot, WRC’s popularity here in the UK has undoubtedly slumped, and it is no surprise that this has coincided with the era of Loeb supremacy.
And what a shame that is, because one of the greatest ever achievements, not just in motor racing but in world sport, is going largely unnoticed.