WRC World Champion Sebastien Loeb heads field in Poland
ORLEN Platinum 66th Rally Poland
FIA World Rally Championship, round 8
For immediate release
Wednesday, June 24th, 2009
WORLD CHAMPION SÉBASTIEN LOEB LEADS TOP-CLASS
ENTRY INTO ORLEN PLATINUM 66TH RALLY POLAND
- Ford and Hirvonen aim to close gap on Loeb and Citroën
- Pole Kosciuszko and Czech Prokop head-to-head in JWRC
MIKOLAJKI (Poland): Defending FIA World Rally Champion, Sébastien Loeb, will be hoping to put a disappointing run of two poor results behind him, when he and French co-driver Daniel Elena lead a 48-car field into the start of the ORLEN Platinum 66th Rally Poland, round eight of this year’s FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), on Thursday evening.
Loeb – the winner of an unprecedented 52 WRC events - arrives in the lakeside town of Mikolajki in north-eastern Poland with a slender seven-point lead over Finland’s Mikko Hirvonen in the FIA Drivers’ Championship, despite winning the first five rounds of the series in Ireland, Norway, Cyprus, Portugal and Argentina.
Since then, the Citroën C4 driver struggled to take fourth place in Sardinia and crashed heavily out of the recent event in Greece, while rival Hirvonen claimed a second in the Italian event and outright victory in Greece to reduce the gap from 20 points to just seven.
Setbacks for Loeb’s French team have also enabled the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team to pull back to within 15 points in the FIA Manufacturers’ Championship.
Loeb and Spanish team-mate Dani Sordo carried out two days’ of testing over the Polish stages and the Frenchman has completed a meticulous recce of the timed gravel tests, which have been likened to fast, flowing Finland roads without the treacherous crests and jumps.
Changeable weather conditions have affected the Mazurian Lake District region in the last few days, with heavy rain on Monday being followed by sunny spells on Tuesday and violent thunderstorms in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
The forecast is for ongoing unsettled conditions and the fact that a Pirelli control tyre is in force should make the battle between Loeb, Sordo, Hirvonen and the Finn’s team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala that extras special.
Frenchman Sébastien Ogier was a revelation in Greece recently and sealed a stunning second position in his Citroën Junior Team C4 WRC. He is joined in the French satellite team by Zimbabwe’s Conrad Rautenbach and Russian Evgeny Novikov, who set a couple of outright fastest times in Greece.
Norway’s Henning Solberg, Britain’s Matthew Wilson and the leading Polish driver Krzysztof Holowczyc represent the Stobart VK M –Sport Ford Rally Team in a trio of Ford Focus RS WRC 08s.
Solberg and Wilson currently hold fifth and seventh in the FIA Drivers’ Championship standings, while the Pole is a former European Rally Champion and a winner of the event on three occasions (1996, 1998 and 2005) before it entered the WRC.
Since the shock withdrawal of the Subaru World Rally Team, Petter Solberg has carved a niche in his private team at the wheel of a Citroën Xsara. The Norwegian finished third overall in Cyprus and Sardinia and has climbed to sixth in the FIA Drivers’ Championship, despite lacking the resources of the professional teams. Solberg hasn’t won a round of the WRC since Wales Rally GB in 2005 and would dearly love to claim the first Polish WRC win.
The event is also a crucial counting round of the FIA Junior World Rally Championship (JWRC) and Eastern Bloc crews feature strongly in the fight for the coveted prize. Poland’s Michal Koscuiszko leads Czech Martin Prokop by eight points heading into this weekend’s 18 timed gravel special stages, but his local rival has a rally in hand over the Cracow driver.
Germany’s Aaron Burkhart and Italy’s Alessandro Bettega are also in the thick of the action this year, although the German skips the Polish event, which also features the likes of Italian Simone Bertolotti and the Polish wild card entrants, Radoslaw Typa and Marcin Dobrowolski.
The ORLEN Platinum 66th Rally Poland is also a round of the Ford Fiesta Sport Trophy International. Joining a trio of Ford Fiesta STs from Team Abu Dhabi are the likes of Germany’s Patrick Anglade, Turkey’s Emre Yurdakol and Russia’s Denis Grodetskiy, with privateers making up the remainder of the provisional 48-car entry.
The competitive action gets underway on Thursday evening with a 2.5km super special stage in Mikolajki at 8pm. This follows the ceremonial start in the town at 7pm. The major gravel stage action takes place to the north-east of the town on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
2009 Drivers' Championship - positions after round 7 of 12
1. Sébastien Loeb (F) 55 pts
2. Mikko Hirvonen (FIN) 48 pts
3. Dani Sordo (E) 31 pts
4. Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN) 25 pts
5. Henning Solberg (N) 21 pts
6. Petter Solberg (N) 20 pts
7. Matthew Wilson (GB) 15 pts, etc
2009 Manufacturers' Championship - positions after round 7 of 12
1. Citroën Total World Rally Team 94 pts
2. BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team 79 pts
3. Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team 49 pts
4. Citroën Junior Rally Team 24 pts
5. Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team 18 pts