Latvala wins WRC Wales Rally GB, while Loeb and Elena claim EIGHTH Championship crowns!

Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikka Anttila (Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team) won the World Rally Championship’s 2011 season finale this evening, with a convincing advantage of 03min 42.9sec over his closest rival.

The Finn battled Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena (Citroën Total World Rally Team) throughout the weekend, but a strange accident on Day Four’s afternoon loop of stages saw his retirement from the rally. Loeb was involved in a road accident on a liaison section to Crychan by a spectator who was driving on the wrong side of the road. Loeb and Elena were unharmed, as well as the spectators in the other car, but Loeb;s Citroën DS3 WRC was damaged beyond repair on the side of the road. Loeb was handed the WRC Drivers’ title after Championship hopefuls Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen (Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team) crashed out of the rally on Day Two.

This is Loeb and Elena’s record-breaking eighth WRC crown, making them undoubtedly the most successful pairing in the history of the sport.

In fine fashion, the rally winner drove with confidence and maturity that was not present in his skill set just 12 months ago, but is now his greatest asset. Latvala claimed the rally lead on Day Three’s penultimate speed test, and ended Day Three with a handful number of seconds over Loeb. This was stretched when he won the first stage on Day Four to virtually assure himself of the rally victory. This is Ford’s third win of the season, and his first of 2011.

“It’s a great feeling because it’s been very stressful and frustrating since my last win [in Finland last season],” said Latvala, who was contesting Rally GB for a tenth time. “It’s a great way to finish the season 2011. We now need to push for the world title with Ford next year.”

Claiming the second spot on the podium, Mads Ostberg/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team) drove to their best-ever WRC career performance. They were locking in a battle with Petter Solberg/Chris Patterson (Petter Solberg World Rally Team), but Solberg was forced out of the event when his Citroën DS3 WRC’s fuel line burst and stranded his car on the side of the road. Ostberg showed tremendous patience, maturity and speed on the tricky muddy stages in Wales this weekend, and he has most certainly impressed rally bosses. He was once again the fastest privateer competitor in the World Rally Championship.

“I’m so happy to be here because the last two days have been very difficult [with the engine problem we’ve had],” said Ostberg. “It’s just a fantastic way to end the season.”

Ostberg’s team-mates Henning Solberg/Ilka Minor (M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team) clinched the final podium slot to hand M-Sport anf Ford a one-two-three victory in their ‘home’ event. Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle (MINI WRC Team) were running fourth overall and 1.8sec behind Solberg heading into the Power Stage, but an error in the 4km-long stage dropped Meeke nearly 10sec.

“I took it very carefully on the last stage when I saw what happened to Kris,” said Solberg, whose last podium was on Rally Poland in 2009. “I tried my best, but now I have to work for next year and to get the sponsors so I can drive again.”

Despite Meeke’s error, his fourth place overall finish is his best result to date in the WRC and highlighted his position as Briton’s top WRC driver for the future.

The M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta World Rally Team Fiesta RS WRC of Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin claimed fifth overall after a relatively trouble-free event. Impressive and memorable in sixth overall was Estonian Ott Tanak and co-driver Kuldar Sikk (DMack Ford Fiesta RS WRC). This youngster is a future World Rally Champion, and after this first competitive drive in a WRC machine his talent is mesmerising.

Winner of the bonus points in the Power Stage were Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Citroën Total World Rally Team), but they finished a lowly 11th overall after restarting the rally under SupeRally rules after crashing out on the opening loop of stages of the event.

Kevin Abbring/Lara Vanaeste (Skoda Fabia S2000) finished the event in 11th overall in his Volkswagen Motorsport-run Skoda, to be the first Class S2000/N4 car to cross the line. A great drive from the Dutch youngster!

The 2012 World Rally Championship season gets underway with the return of the legendary Rallye Monte-Carlo from 17-22 January.

Overall WRC Classification:
01) J-M. Latvala – 03h 27m 03.5s
02) M. Ostberg + 03m 42.9s
03) H. Solberg + 07m 05.1s
04) K. Meeke + 07m 12.3s
05) M. Wilson + 08m 57.3s
06) O. Tanak + 09m 27.1s
07) E. Novikov + 09m 47.7s
08) D. Kuipers + 10m 12.7s
09) K. Block + 16m 01.2s
10) A. Araujo + 17m 01.6s

Overall PWRC Classification:
01) P. Flodin – 03h 49m 32.2s
02) M. Semerad + 05m 43.8s
03) M. kosciuszko + 12m 14.7s
04) N. Fuchs + 12m 46.5s
05) D. Tagirov + 13m 49.8s
06) M. Al Shamsi + 14m 21.2s
07) O. Kikireshko + 22m 01.6s
08) H. Hunt + 24m 26.6s
09) O. Saliuk + 25m 36.3s
10) V. Gorban + 42m 22.2s

Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle - Picture by MINI Motorsport.

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