Sébastien Loeb claimed his first WRC victory for more than five years by edging Sébastien Ogier in a pulsating finale to the 2018 RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de España. Here’s how his remarkable success happened.
Leg 1: Friday
Ott Tänak took a dominant 26.8sec lead in Friday’s opening leg, mastering slippery gravel tracks to head home hero Dani Sordo and distance title rivals Thierry Neuville and Ogier.
Only once did Tänak finish outside the top three in seven speed tests in his Toyota Yaris, although he topped the timesheets just once on roads which favoured the later starters as the grip improved.
Sordo claimed one stage win in a Hyundai i20 and relegated a disappointed Elfyn Evans by 2.9sec in the final stage. Loeb ended half a second behind Evans’ Ford Fiesta in fourth after initially struggling with understeer in his Citroën C3.
Jari-Matti Latvala was Tänak’s biggest challenger and was on course to relegate his team-mate until a puncture cost almost 50sec. He plunged to 10th before recovering to fifth, 1.5sec clear of Andreas Mikkelsen’s i20. Ogier floundered in seventh with Neuville ninth.
Leg 2: Saturday
Latvala moved to the front in an enthralling leg which ended with six drivers battling for honours. The Finn was the third leader of another dramatic day in which the pendulum swung back and forth between the title contenders.
He headed a resurgent Ogier by 4.7sec after the Frenchman staged a remarkable charge up the leaderboard. Latvala’s smiles were contrasted by despair elsewhere in Toyota as Tänak plunged to eighth after a front left puncture.
Ogier ended 3.3sec ahead of Loeb, whose pace steadily quickened. Evans was a further 1.8sec behind in fourth while Neuville climbed from ninth to fifth.
Sordo led briefly but fared worst in deteriorating conditions and lost four places in the penultimate stage to end sixth. Just 16.5sec covered the top six.
Leg 3: Sunday
Loeb, who last stood on the winners’ podium in Argentina in 2013, charged into the lead by winning the opening two tests as an inspired tyre choice on drying roads reaped rewards.
He threw away vital seconds with a spin in the penultimate stage to allow Ogier to close, but held on for his ninth Spanish win by 2.9sec.
Ogier’s consolation was that he regained the championship lead by three points from Neuville. The Belgian was relegated from third to fourth after hitting a stone and breaking his rear right wheel in the final stage.
Evans snatched third by 0.5sec, with Sordo fifth and Tänak recovering to sixth. Latvala hit a barrier in the penultimate stage, punctured his front left tyre and dropped to eighth.