BLOG: Loeb's Jaw-Dropping Rally RACC Catalunya Master Class

So, our pre-season 2018 WRC prediction now looks unlikely now to be the vision we thought it was! Baring some maths miracle in Australia next month, Ott Tanak will not be crowned the 2018 champion, despite his incredible mid-late season pace and unparalleled driver-car synergy with his "little Yaris."

But it also has to be said we definitely did not predict the unprecedented 79th WRC win at Rally RACC of "the master" – nine-time WRC champion, Sebastian Loeb either.

But what a privilege it was to see the normally ice cool French rally legend so stoked he almost choked following his unreal, down-to-the-wire win on the (finally dry) stages of the amazing, only mixed surface event of the season, Rally RACC, Rally Catalunya, Rally Spain. Whatever you refer to it as... it was totally, 110% epic and a cast iron rally classic.

The levels of how incredible this was are hard to comprehend.
The fact there was only 2.9s between the old master Sebastian (Loeb) and the new master Sebastian (Ogier) and it went to the final stage after all those hundreds of stage miles of rallying – from the sun-kissed streets of Barcelona, to the fast flowing gravel in the hills, to the first bit of slippery-when-wet tarmac the crews have seen all year and finally onto classic, open, circuit-link public asphalt of beautiful Catalunya – is No.1.

Then there's the number of leaders of the event who fell by the wayside – first Tanak, who was in a class of his own again until he lost almost two minutes repairing a blown tyre. Gutted. Then Jari-Matti Latvala, who's shown such a turn of speed at the end of this thrilling season and could have won, were it not for punctures and armco adventures. His bad luck continues. Even the veteran Dani Sordo was leading for a bit, much to the locals delight, with a cracking tarmac master class in the understeer-dogged Hyundai. Then there was the inevitable, irrepressible rise to the top – like creme anglaise in a cafe de creme – of the two legendary French Sebastians. First Ogier. Then, incredibly, Loeb.

Rally fans worldwide were all in awe of his skills, including Ogier himself, who was first to congratulate the champ on his epic win – leaping onto the roof of Loeb's Citroen C3 at the finish line, seconds after Loeb & lifelong co-driver, Daniel Elena had realised they had beaten the best in the world, to take a 79th WRC win.

And all this six years after Loeb and Elena's last run out in a WRC car, when they were very, very different beasts, with closer to 300bhp, than 400bhp and with barely any downforce assistance and when active diffs were a lot more basic.

His epic, historic win goes to show just how legendary the Loeb/Elena/Citroen combination is... I mean, just think how many great, bright young things have failed to unlock the C3's clear ability since Loeb left. And he pops straight back and beats not just their drivers, but all the others too, as they fight for WRC 2018 placements, at the end of a full season. Unreal.

Also, what a great leveller changing conditions are and how fabulous Rally Spain is for the annual calendar because of that... with the (too cosseted in the modern era?) drivers having to cope with narrow special stages on tarmac with a full gravel set-up, unusual gravel stages, then cope with the tectonic shift in set-up and feel with a proper, full chat bit of tarmac rallying... even better this year, with the added challenge of rain creating some extra fizzle. Magic.

Tyre choice became a red-hot topic once again, like days of old. And the new AW (All Wets) finally got a run out, even if some were reluctant to pick it (most noticeably Ogier), thanks to a lack of testing time. Loeb taught all of the youngsters a lesson they will never forget – picking the hard compound (dry) Michelins at the very last moment on the Sunday morning service. No-one else considered the 'risk.' And he utterly annihilated them – making one of his famous, unstoppable moves to the top, where he would stay.

This was an utterly jaw-dropping event, with an historic win from the best of the best that will live long in the rally banks, proving unequivically l'expérience compte. And from a British rally fans perspective, it was superb to see M-sport net some big points, thanks to Ogier's P2 and Elfyn Evan's measured, ballistic P3.

Merci Monsieur Loeb. Magnifique.

And how thrilling is Rally Australia going to be now? Neuville or Loeb for the crown?
I'm not predicting anything!  

Pictures: Citroen Racing & M-Sport 

Rally RACC Results
Loeb / Elena (Citroën C3 WRC) 3h12’08’’0
Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2’’9
Evans / Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +16’’5
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +17’’0
Sordo / Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 WRC) +18’’6
Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1’03’’9
Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1’16’’6
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1’26’’4
Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) +2’07’’0
Mikkelsen / Jaeger (Hyundai i20 WRC) +2’48’’2

Championship Standings 
Sébastien Ogier – 204 points
Thierry Neuville – 201 points
Ott Tänak – 181 points
Esapekka Lappi – 110 points
Jari-Matti Latvala – 102 points
Andreas Mikkelsen – 84 points
Dani Sordo – 71 points
Elfyn Evans – 70 points
Craig Breen – 61 points
Hayden Paddon – 55 points

Toyota Gazoo Racing – 331 points
Hyundai WRT – 319 points
M-Sport Ford WRT – 306 points
Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT – 216 points


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