Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Horror for Hirvonen hands Loeb eighth title

Sebastien Loeb is World rally champion for an astonishing eighth time.

The demise of Mikko Hirvonen on yesterday’s second leg of Wales Rally GB handed the WRC title to the Frenchman. And he stayed in front last night although by just one second from Hirvonen’s Ford team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala.

Win or lose at the finish on Sunday, no one can now catch Loeb in the title race. It was all down to Hirvonen, but the Finn crashed out on yesterday’s fourth stage in the Welsh forests.

He had just edged into the lead when he went off the road, holing the radiator of his Ford Fiesta when it hit a tree stump. With Hirvonen gone, Latvala stepped up the pace, winning three of yesterday afternoon's four stages to move onto Loeb's tail, clawing back 16 seconds.

Kris Meeke had been in fifth but lost over two minutes when the alternator belt broke on his Mini.

He fell back to 11th but mounted a big charge in the afternoon, including setting fastest time on the Dyfi East stage, as he fought his way back to eighth, four seconds behind former F1 champion Kimi Raikkonen (Citroen) and five adrift of Ott Tanak (Ford).

“A good day generally but frustrating at the same time,” said the Dungannon driver. “We could have been fourth, maybe even third, but setting fastest time at Dyfi gave us a real lift.”

Meeke’s team-mate Dani Sordo crashed out on the second of yesterday’s stages, his Mini sliding off at a hairpin and becoming stranded in a deep ditch.

Meanwhile, Craig Breen’s gallant quest to capture the €500,000 prize in the WRC Academy championship continued. He set fastest times on every stage yesterday to open up a gap of four minutes over series leader Egon Kaur.

But when Alastair Fisher lost three minutes of the final stage last night, the Estonian moved up to second place which might be enough to ensure he denies Breen the big prize.