Citroën’s Sebastien Loeb maintained his composure over the final two, rain-drenched, stages of the San Remo Rally to win his third WRC event of the year and ignite the championship battle.

Citroën’s Sebastien Loeb maintained his composure over the final two, rain-drenched, stages of the San Remo Rally to win his third WRC event of the year and ignite the championship battle.


As CARtoday.com reported on Friday, the young Frenchman put his Citroën Xsara in the lead on SS1. He kept it there for the remainder of the event, even with heavy competition first from the current world champion Marcus Gronholm and later from Ford's Markko Martin.


“Loeb had looked well-set before the final two stages, with a comfortable lead over second-placed Martin and over a minute in hand on everyone else. He, like almost all his rivals, had chosen to fit dry-weather tyres for the final two stages. Then the rain started and, to make matters worse, Peugeot’s Gilles Panizzi had gambled and fitted more heavily treaded intermediate tyres.


"It was a very difficult end of the race,” said Loeb. “I tried to stay on the road and do the same times as Martin. Panizzi was coming very, very fast.”


“Seb achieved his aim, bringing the Xsara WRC home undamaged and even further ahead of Martin, but his worries about Panizzi were well-founded… The man who had won the previous three editions of the rally, beating Seb into second place on his first ever WRC event in 2001, was in inspired form.


After 12 of the event’s 14 stages, Panizzi was fifth and 2:13,3s behind Loeb. Two stages later, at the end of the rally, Panizzi was second, and he’d reduced the gap by one and three-quarter minutes in just 48,06km – that’s the difference the correct tyres and a shot of that old Panizzi inspiration can make.


"Luckily when the rain came, we chose the right tyres," said Panizzi. "Of course, that is an important part of rallying and the team did a fantastic job helping me choose them."


The men who lost out in the deluge were Marcus Gronholm, Martin and Carlos Sainz. Gronholm suffered most, providing hard evidence of just how difficult the conditions were when he crashed out of the rally early in the final stage. Martin and Sainz simply didn’t have big enough cushions over Panizzi to keep ahead of him. They had to be content with third and fourth places.


At the bottom of the top 10, there were significant changes too. Richard Burns seemed to wake up after a performance over the event that was well below par. He was as quick as Loeb over that last stage and quicker than any of the other top contenders bar Panizzi.


“Meanwhile, Gronholm had dropped out, and Philippe Bugalski and Cedric Robert were slow through the stage. Suddenly Burns had seventh place, two drivers’ championship points and a place alone at the top of the points table that had looked impossible to retain just a couple of hours earlier.


Solid runs over the closing stages kept Francois Duval and Colin McRae firmly in the points in fifth and sixth, while Bugalski held onto the final point in eighth place.


Citroën also moved into a clear four-point lead in the all-important manufacturers’ championship, and Burns on 57 points has Loeb and Sainz closing in menacingly on 55 and 53 points in the drivers’ title battle.

Original article from Car