September 6, 2006 When Sebastien Loeb narrowly held out Marcus Gronholm to win the Rally of Japan last Sunday, he became the most successful rally driver in history. His 27th career victory edged the double World Rally Champion past former Citroen driver Carlos Sainz and into the record books once again. Unbelievably Loeb only made his WRC debut in 2002 and has taken just four seasons to overtake the success of rally legend Sainz. Along the way, it’s been a tour de force, as he now holds the record for the most consecutive victories, and last year performed what many people consider to be his most astounding feat – winning every stage in a World Championship Rally. This year the Frenchman has demonstrated his versatility winning the Race of Champions (December) and finishing in second place in the Le Mans 24 Hour Race.
Victory in Japan was the seventh this year for the Frenchman from only eleven starts. He now leads the driver’s standings by an incredible 33 points with five rallies to go.
Sébastien Loeb commented: “How was that for close? At the start of the final leg, I thought that the eight points for the championship would have been a good result for the championship. Then we took the decision just to go for it. On the last stage, we took a few risks. The smell of victory, and the potential joy of a team that once again performed faultlessly, made it all worth it.”
Ironically, had Gronholm managed to take the event on Sunday, he would have moved to within three races of Loeb – The Finnish driver sits sixth on the all-time win listing with 22 wins, behind Loeb (27), Sainz (26), Colin McRae (25), Tommi Mäkinen (24), Juha Kankkunen (23) and ahead of Didier Auriol (20), Markku Alén (19) and Hannu Mikkola (18 wins).
FIA World Rally Championship after round 11
1. S.Loeb (FRA), 102 pts – 2. M.Grönholm (FIN), 69 pts – 3. D.Sordo (E), 43 pts – 4. M.Hirvonen (FIN), 33 pts – 5. M.Stohl (A), 28 pts – 6. P.Solberg (N), 21 pts – 7. T.Gardemeister (FIN), 16 pts – 8. H.Solberg (N), 16 pts – 9. G.Galli (I), 15 pts – 10. X.Pons (E), 11 pts