By CHRIS WRIGHT email@example.com
Frenchman Sebastien Loeb continued his winning streak in the 2009 FIA World Rally Championship last weekend, claiming a convincing victory in the Vodafone Rally de Portugal.
He led the event from the beginning of the second day and has now notched up 51 WRC wins, equalling the achievement of countryman Alain Prost in Formula One.
Loeb had built a 26-second lead over Mikko Hirvonen by the end of the second day and team-mate Dani Sordo was a further 30 seconds back. With the drivers so evenly matched, it would take a mistake by one of the leading three to change the order.
The first stages of the day would prove tricky. The early morning dust was hanging in the air with the passing of every car and Loeb, first on the road, made the most of the clear conditions. Hirvonen was second and Sordo third on both tests, as the crews headed back to the Algarve Stadium.
Britain’s Matthew Wilson had to retire after his Focus suffered brake problems and a burned out clutch.
Conrad Rautenbach’s car caught fire and was completely gutted. The stage was stopped while the fire services extinguished the fire. By the end of the event, it was the Solberg brothers who finished fourth and fifth, Petter taking the advantage over Henning.
In the Production car World Rally Championship, the win went to local hero Armindo Araújo, much to the delight of the fans in the Algarve Stadium. He had climbed to lead the class by the end of the second leg and while those behind were pushing on the last day to try to overhaul the Portuguese, he was picking his way through the final five stages to guarantee his first P-WRC win and with it, the overall lead in the series.
Commenting on the success of the event, Clerk of the Course Pedro Almeida said: “We are very happy with the way the event has run this year. The drivers were very complimentary about the event and the quality of the roads and we saw some excellent action on the stages. We have also been complimented on the organisation by the members of the media, who found that the areas assigned for them to work were perfect and that access to these areas was without any problems at all.
“I have to express my personal thanks and those of the rally to all the marshals and members of the GNR who have worked extremely hard this weekend to ensure that the various people who required access to stages were able to do so efficiently, while the spectators were able to enjoy exceptional rallying in safety.”