The 58th Rally Finland, ninth round of the 2008 World Rally Championship, promises to be remembered as a landmark event in the history of world class rallying. The final leg saw Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena clinch their first ever win here, while Dani Sordo and Marc Martí claimed fourth overall in the second Citroën Total C4 WRC to harvest valuable Manufacturers’ points for Citroën.
Rally Finland is renowned as one of the WRC calendar’s toughest fixtures, and its high speed jumps and extremely fast stages call for years of experience. Since the creation of the Manufacturers’ World Championship in 1973, only Carlos Sainz (1990) and Didier Auriol (1992) had succeeded in toppling the Finns on their home event before today. The seventh attempt of Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena in a Citroën WRC car saw them become the third crew in history to thwart the local stars.
"I’m thrilled to have won this rally," beamed Sébastien Loeb at the finish. "and I’m especially pleased with the way we won it. From start to finish, the scrap reminded me of the thrilling clashes we had last year with Marcus Grönholm. It was a very close run thing throughout and we were never able to relax. The decision to keep the lead at the end of the opening day involved a certain amount of risk because we didn’t know exactly how much road-sweeping we would have to do. It meant pushing hard all the way, but the tactic finally paid off."
"Our objective today was to keep up a fast pace over the final day’s 40.47km of stages and keep a close eye on how our main rival was going," continued the four-time World Champion. "It was important not to make any mistakes and that meant building in a certain safety margin. After spending the first two days driving flat out between the trees, I had absolutely no intention of letting our 42nd WRC win slip from our grasp. Today’s victory also means we have met one of the objectives we set ourselves at the start of the season and that’s a particularly satisfying feeling. I had every confidence in my Citroën C4 from flag to flag and this result gives our chances in the Drivers’ championship a terrific boost since it narrows the gap down to just three points. It’s been a positive weekend, too, for Citroën in the Manufacturers’ standings."
"Beating the Finns in a straight fight on their home event is an indescribable experience," added Daniel Elena. "For me, it’s a dream come true. The way I call out the notes here is no different to anywhere else; it’s just the speed at which they need to come out that differs, plus the extraordinary sensation of feeling the car drifting with all four wheels at 200kph!"
"We spent the last day driving sufficiently quickly to defend our fourth place," related Dani Sordo. "I am pleased with my performance this weekend and I didn’t make any mistakes. I have learnt even more about how to drive on this highly specific event where experience counts for so much. There are still a few areas where I can improve, notably the way I brake. It’s nice to be at the finish and it’s the first time I’ve had that pleasure here in a WRC car. Our C4 WRC was extremely competitive and the points that Citroën has scored promise to be important as the rest of the season unfolds."
"When you know just how tough it is to win this event, today’s result is immensely satisfying," concluded Olivier Quesnel. "Sébastien and Daniel didn’t put a foot wrong and they came out on top at the end of what was an unrelenting fight. The tremendous work put in by everyone in the technical team on the C4 since last year has paid dividends. It was awesomely competitive and this is a top result for us in terms of the Manufacturers’ Championship, too. The way both C4s performed is particularly encouraging for the rest of the season. Dani and Marc also put in a very mature run. A magnificent victory, some outstanding times, clockwork reliability and a big points haul… what else could we ask for?"
Final positions 1. S Loeb/D Elena FRA Citroen C4 2hr 54min 05.5sec 2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 2hr 54min 14.5sec 3. C Atkinson/S Prévot AUS Subaru Impreza 2hr 57min 22.5sec 4. D Sordo/M Marti ESP Citroen C4 2hr 57min 36.4sec 5. H Solberg/C Menkerud NOR Ford Focus RS 2hr 58min 03.2sec 6. P Solberg/P Mills NOR Subaru Impreza 2hr 58min 09.6sec 7. M Rantanen/J Lönegren FIN Ford Focus RS 3hr 00min 16.6sec 8. T Gardemeister/T Tuominen FIN Suzuki SX4 3hr 02min 24.2sec 9. M Wilson/S Martin GBR Ford Focus RS 3hr 02min 42.8sec 10 C Rautenbach/D Senior ZIM Citroen C4 3hr 04min 36.4sec
Drivers 1. M Hirvonen 67pts 2. S Loeb 66pts 3. C Atkinson 37pts 4. D Sordo 35pts 5. J-M Latvala 34pts 6. P Solberg 23pts
Manufacturers 1. BP Ford Abu Dhabi 108pts 2. Citroen Total 105pts 3. Subaru 62pts 4. Stobart VK M-Sport 45pts 5. Munchi's Ford 19pts 6. Suzuki 12pts
Stage 22: 1= Hirvonen, Loeb 11min 11.0sec; 3. Latvala + 0.9; 4. Aava + 9.7; 5. Atkinson + 9.8; 6. P Solberg + 10.6; 14. Al Qassimi + 1:03.9.
Overall: 1. Loeb 2hr 44min 54.5sec; 2. Hirvonen + 18.2; 3. Atkinson + 3:13.4; 4. Sordo + 3:26.8; 5. H Solberg + 3:47.6; 6. P Solberg + 4:09.3; 11. Al Qassimi + 13:15.8; 42. Latvala + 46:07.2.
Stage 23: 1. Latvala 5min 43.8sec; 2. Hirvonen + 4.9; 3. Mikkelsen + 5.5; 4. Wilson + 9.8; 5. P Solberg + 9.1; 6. Loeb + 11.3; 14. Al Qassimi + 25.0.
Overall: 1. Loeb 2hr 50min 49.6sec; 2. Hirvonen + 11.8; 3. Atkinson + 3:15.4; 4. Sordo + 3:28.0; 5. H Solberg + 3:56.4; 6. P Solberg + 4:07.1; 11. Al Qassimi + 13:29.5; 42. Latvala + 45:55.9.
Stage 24: 1. P Solberg 3min 12.9sec; 2. Hirvonen + 0.2; 3. Aava + 0.3; 4. Latvala + 0.6; 5. Loeb + 3.0; 6. Rantanen + 3.1; 14. Al Qassimi + 11.6.
Overall: 1. Loeb 2hr 54min 05.5sec; 2. Hirvonen + 9.0; 3. Atkinson + 3:17.0; 4. Sordo + 3:30.9; 5. H Solberg + 3:57.7; 6. P Solberg + 4:04.1; 11. Al Qassimi + 13:38.1; 39. Latvala + 45:53.5.