Loeb slams rally championship start order rules

AutoTrader NZ
Published 3 September 2020

World champion Sebastien Loeb has slammed World Rally Championship rules which saw him revert to tactics to ensure he didn’t start first on the road in today’s third leg of Repco Rally New Zealand.

Running first on gravel roads means acting as a road “sweeper”, moving loose gravel off the surface. The racing surface is also slipperier, and the driver loses time to his rivals.

The handicap was shown graphically yesterday when Loeb, running second, overhauled rally leader, Mikko Hirvonen, who started first in his Ford Focus RS.

Citroen C4 WRC driver Loeb decimated Hirvonen’s margin – built on Friday when Lobe ran first and the Finn ran second – turning a 28-second lead into a deficit by the final stage.

Then in the final test at Te Akau North in the western Waikato, when he realised he couldn’t open a sufficient gap over Hirvonen, Loeb slowed near the end of the special stage to ensure he didn’t start first today.

Ford, on its part, urged on its second driver, Jari-Matti Latvala, who won the stage and took the rally lead. So Latvala starts today’s five-stage leg as road sweeper, with Hirvonen second and Loeb third.

That has set up a needle match between Hirvonen and Loeb and with Latvala and Citroen driver Dani Sordo also in with a chance of winning.

Today’s main action occurs on two special stages near Raglan which are used twice each.

The first time through. Latvala will be the sweeper. On the second run, all four drivers will be running on swept surfaces, and will have an equal chance.

Loeb said last night that in the final stage of leg two he had been hoping to open a gap of 15 to 18 seconds over Hirvonen, and retain the rally lead.

But he couldn’t achieve that. “Finally, I understood that the only way was to slow down and that’s what we have done.

“Tactics is what we have to do to win. Last year (when the cars ran under the old rules and Marcus Gronholm pipped Loeb by 0.3 of a second to win Rally NZ) there was no question of tactics.

Under the old rules, “everyone was pushing and the leader could fight. There was never a question of tactics.

“Now, it’s boring. I decided at the end (of SS11 Te Akau North) to slow down. It’s the only way with these regulations.”

But going into today’s five special stages – the four near Raglan in coastal western Waikato and a final sprint around the Mystery Creek super special – Loeb says there will be no tactics.

“Now we are finished with tactics and all four will be fighting for the win.”

The order going into Leg Three is: Latvala; Hirvonen, 9.3 seconds behind; Loeb, another four seconds behind; Sordo, another 2.4 seconds behind; Francois Duval, 1m 40.9s behind Latvala; Urmo Aava, 2m 49.8s behind Latvala.

More from Rally NZ as the day progresses.