Latvala wins Welsh rally battle but Loeb wins WRC war
Jari-Matti Latvala took first place in the Wales Rally GB this weekend, capping a thrilling World Rally Championship that saw Sebastian Loeb win the overall Drivers' Championship for an eighth consecutive time.
Loeb rode his luck to victory during the Welsh weekend, after main title rival Mikko Hirvonen retired during the first day. It meant the Finn could only finish runner up to Loeb in the title race, despite Loeb being forced to retire after a colliding with a spectator's car on the way to a stage during day two.
Thankfully nobody was hurt, and the incident left Latvala able to take his first WRC win for 18 months.
The newly formed MINI WRC Team, meanwhile, finished fourth courtesy of Northern Irish driver Kris Meeke. The result, capped off MINI's maiden modern rally adventure highly respectably; the team competed in six races, with WRC veteran Dani Sordo achieving podium finishes in two of them, in France and Germany.
It leaves MINI confident it can achieve its initially stated goal of winning the championship in 2013. Talking after Wales GB, Meeke said: "The car has exceeded expectations, we're at a very good level and know where we have to be. For sure we can push for a win next year. Hopefully I can get on the podium."
Finishing the 2011 WRC Championship with 25 and 59 points, Meeke and Sordo are some way behind the leaders (Loeb won with 222 points, with Hirvonen on 214), which might suggest MINI's confidence is misplaced for next season, but team principle Dave Richards certainly believes that the team has a chance.
Richards – owner of Prodrive, the eminent tuning company behind MINI's rally effort, and most famous for WRS-winning Subaru Imprezas – said: "At the end of the day when I look back on this rally and think where we have come in six months – Dani and Kris have achieved five top five positions in only six events – quite honestly the team has come of age and this is only just the beginning for the MINI WRC Team."
The MINI WRC team has operated on a budget 'around one tenth' of that of a top WRC works team, according to some sources.
But Mikko Hirvonen's latest failed quest for a WRC title proves that money isn't everything. Since 2002 Hirvonen has racked up 14 rally wins, 51 podiums and a remarkable 212 stage wins – but never a championship, despite being with WRC stalwarts Ford and Subaru during most of that time.
Hirvonen has finished on the podium eight times this season in his Ford Fiesta RS car, but it still wasn't enough to stop Loeb grabbing his record-breaking eighth title.
Trophy number eight puts Loeb straight into motorsport's hall of fame, one ahead of both Michael Schumacher's F1 title haul, and Valentino Rossi's premier class Moto GP record.