Petter Solberg and his Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson have inadvertently played a key role in ramping up the pressure on Sebastien Loeb as he bids for an astonishing eighth World rally championship in a row.
Solberg and Patterson finished third in Rally France at the weekend but were later excluded from the results when their Citroen was discovered to be four kilos under the minimum weight limit.
Their exit promoted Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen to third and with Loeb failing to score any points after his Citroen’s engine failed, the Finn and the French ace are now tied at the top of the World standings with just two rounds remaining.
Intriguingly, Loeb’s team-mate Sebastien Ogier is also just three points behind after his narrow victory over Mini’s Dani Sordo in France.
But Citroen have confirmed that Loeb will continue to have priority and Ogier must do everything he can to support him — a decision that has displeased the younger Frenchman to such an extent he is rumoured to be on his way to Ford next season.
Speculation suggests Ford will retain the super-fast but sometimes wayward Jari-Matti Latvala who again sacrificed his position at the weekend to assist Hirvonen.
He had just overtaken Kris Meeke for fourth place but it was being widely suggested Latvala would be instructed to drop back behind the Ulsterman’s Mini, and Hirvonen in fifth, to allow his team-mate to gain more points.
It was a scenario that never developed because Meeke crashed on the next stage.
Now what if Hirvonen wins the World title? Would Ford still be prepared to replace him with the disruptive Ogier?
The World rally championship is set for a fascinating finish.