Loeb's run of good luck was about to come to an end. He's always had a super reliable car, and his co-driver, Daniel Elena rarely makes mistake. His talent is unrivalled. Yet on the smooth gravel roads of Sardinia, in Italy, he collected penalties for lateness, made mistakes, got a puncture and then was given a 2 minute penalty when Elena took his seatbelts off to early to fix it. Still, he could have done what Henning solberg did, and crash on the 11th Stage instead, but using the Superally rule, he returned and finished 8th. 7th was Mads Østberg, 6th was Wilson, 5th was Novikov who had actually managed to finish a rally for a change, Loeb finished 4th after recovering from his problems and penalties, 3rd was Petter Solberg, looking happier than ever, 2nd was Mikko Hirvonen, and with a huge cheer, 1st was Jari-Matti Latvala
Maybe he would still drive for Ford in the future after all.
Loeb's season went from bad to worse in Greece, with a very rare DNF for the Frenchman. He was kept company by the only other former world champion in the pack, Petter Solberg's Xsara didn't like the rough roads of Greece. And who could blame it? It's almost as bad as Cyprus!
In 8th, was a driver no one expected at all, The largely unknown Lambros Athanassoulas was another production championship driver, and only competing because it was his home event. 7th was Nutter Østberg, In 6th, Khalid Al Qassimi got greedy and wanted more than just one point this time, thank you very much, and Conrad Rautenbach actually finished in the points. He finished 5th. 4th was Villagra – when he turns up he's pretty good – Latvala continued to appease the wrath of Malcolm Wilson by finishing 3rd, Ogier lived up to his past form in 2nd having finally gotten used to the C4, and for the first time in the season, Hirvonen took a win!
Into Uncharted territory for the next round, the dry gravel roads of Poland. No WRC event has gone here before, but it's sure that they'll go back again after the success of this year. Loeb had a torrid time again, and could only manage 7th, only managing to outscore Rautenbach who had finished 8th. 6th was a Polish rally champion and mayor (!) who had turned out to compete on his home event, and had the name of... and I hope I get this right, Krzysztof Holowczyc. Don't ask me how you pronounce that. 5th was Matthew Wilson, 4th was Petter Solberg who was back on form after the battering he had in Greece. His Brother Henning was 3rd, Dani Sordo was the top Citroen, and Hirvonen won, again.
To the 1000 Lakes of Finland. It's hugely fast, very smooth gravel, and populated by lunatic Finns. So who do you expect to do well. Finns of course!
8th place went to a Briton, Wilson. 7th was a Finn called Jari Ketomaa, 6th was Ogier, 5th was a Finn called Matti Rantanen, 4th was Dani Sordo, 3rd was a nervous Finn called Jari-Matti Latvala, 2nd was Sebastien Loeb, and 1st was a Finn called Mikko Hirvonen. Interesting pattern. Unfortunately for the two Norweigans, the event didn't go very well at all with Henning finishing 30th and Petter failing to finish at all. Another Finn called Kimi Raikkonen turned up. Apparently he's some sort of racing driver, who drives for Fiat in some international single seater racing championship or other. He was driving a S2000 Fiat Punto, and did a typical racing-driver-gone-rallying performance. That is, he went stunningly quickly, then had a huge accident. He was OK afterwards though, and is still driving those single seaters, but apparently he wants to make a step up into the WRC full time in the future. And good luck to him.
After this, Petter lost patience with his Xsara and bought a newer C4, but missed Rally Australia whilst he was testing his new car. Talk of a manufacturer drive started to follow the popular Norweigan in his absence. By now, Hirvonen had got the lead on the championship, and had turned into a real contender.
Turning upside down has strange effects on some people. It returned Rautenbach to his natural state of being upside down and he came in 17th. It had a stranger effect on the previously resurgent Khalid Al Qassimi, who finished 20th. Villagra got the point for 8th instead, Henning took 7th, Wilson got 6th, Latvala celebrated 2 rallies on the trot without ruining another car in 5th, Ogier returned to form with a 4th place, and Sordo came in 3rd. Then there was a fight, and Sebastien Loeb won – with Hirvonen second. 17 seconds covered the first 3 cars, which after 3 days and hundreds of miles is pretty impressive.
Back to Europe for the Tarmac rally in Spain. Don't ever bet against the Citroen drivers being bad here, they're exceptionally good. Parking his new silver Citroen C4 in the service park was Petter Solberg. And he got to work with it straight away, the rumours kept following him though. Evengy Novikov had also left the Citroen Junior team after one crash too many in Finland.
8th place, beating Henning Solberg, was Villagra, proving that he's at least consistent, Wilson was also pretty consistent with his 7th place, 6th was Latvala, 5th Ogier, 4th was Petter Solberg who was clearly delighted with his new car, 3rd was Hirvonen, 2nd was Sordo and 1st again was Loeb.
That result has set up an awesome showdown this weekend in Wales. With one point separating the top two drivers, it's bound to be close, who will win? Come back tomorrow for part 3!