This week in the WRC, apart from Rally Sweden itself, is still providing drama at every turn, as there have been further developments regarding the broadcast rights, with no confirmation as to who is close to securing them, as well as the reduction of Prodrive's involvement with the Mini Cooper WRC Works team, to being a works-supported private team, especially as the long-term homologation of the Mini has been underwritten until 2018, with Prodrive having a direct involvement with the car's future development, which was confirmed by Dr. Kay Segler, senior VP of Brand Management and Business Co-ordination just over a week ago.
However, moving on to the action in Sweden, it seemed as if Sebastien Loeb was not to have it all his own way, with his fellow Citroen teammate Mikko Hirvonen and Ford rival Jari-Matti Latvala opened up a gap on the Frenchman early in proceedings on Friday afternoon, who endured a two minute excursion into a snow bank, with Petter Solberg recovering from a spin and Mads Ostberg having difficulties with the set-up of his Adapta Ford. But with a few issues of set-up and high tyre wear affecting his DS3 WRC, Hirvonen found these to cost him further time, as Latvala edged ahead, and pulled out a lead over his countryman.
Loeb struggled even further during the weekend, as a spate of sporadic incidents hampered his progress back up the leaderboard, but finished 6th, and even secured the extra three points on the Power Stage to help keep him in the early stages of the title fight so far, but could not quite catch Evgeny Novikov, who managed to keep Loeb at bay, whilst repeating his best finish so far in his M-Sport Fiesta WRC, securing fifth place. Go Fast Ford's Henning Solberg finished seventh ahead of Mini driver Patrik Sandell, whilst Dani Sordo crashed out of the rally on Friday afternoon, having damaged his engine after an altercation with a snowbank. Sebastian Ogier finished his first rally for the VW Motorsport team, with a respectable 11th place finish in the Skoda Fabia S2000, but is still helping to develop VW's Polo R WRC challenger for 2013, so it is early days to see how the former Citroen driver will fare over the coming season.
But it was a Scandinavian fight for the podium, with Latvala securing the win easily, showing a clam and mature drive, whilst still pushing hard in his M-Sport Ford, even suffering a puncture after hitting a rock on the penultimate stage, losing most of his 35 second lead, with Hirvonen finishing second. It was a close fight for the final sport on the podium, with Ostberg finishing ahead of Solberg, who unfortunately hit the very same rock as his Finnish team mate, losing a lot of time as a result.
So in a few weeks' time, the team will be going over to the tough terrain that awaits them across the Atlantic at Rally Mexico, where there will be more thrills and spills on the rough Mexican gravel from the 8th to the 11th March. So will we see the 8 times WRC Champion Loeb back to the top of the tree, or will there be a surprise in the field. We at PopFodder look forward to seeing the events unfold before our very eyes...
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