It's been a spectacular year for eight-time world champion Sébastien Loeb, while Citroën team-mate Sébastien Ogier and Ford rivals Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala, not to mention the new MINI debutants Dani Sordo and Kris Meeke, have all played their part.
The pre-season began with a little fitness training. Citroën team-mates and fellow Sébastiens, Loeb and Ogier, were all smiles – the two Frenchmen would not always be so cordial as the season progressed…
With the series switching to normally-aspirated S2000 machinery, and with it Citroën to the marque’s DS3 supermini, some testing was required. Here, Loeb puts the new, as-yet-unliveried car through its paces on a snowy Swedish night.
Once the action proper began at the season-opening Rally Sweden, it was Mikko Hirvonen, driving Ford’s new challenger, the Fiesta, who gave the car a dream debut with victory.
He didn’t start the season with seven consecutive championships for nothing, and Loeb got back to winning ways in Mexico, where his DS3 was central to the celebrations.
It wasn’t all plan sailing for Loeb, pictured here in the next rally in Portugal, as his team-mate Ogier grabbed top spot while he finished second.
It got even better for Ogier in the next event. Despite suggestions to the contrary from this photo, he made the most of the extra power below sea level in Jordan to rocket to another win.
Loeb made a splash as WRC moved on to Italy, taking the victory.
Hirvonen kicks up dirt on his way to second place on the Italian island of Sardinia.
MINI made their long-awaited debut in Sardinia. Dani Sordo (pictured) took a brilliant sixth place in the car’s first outing.
Loeb meets adoring crowds in Argentina, where he grabbed a second straight victory.
Ogier is delighted to take victory in Greece, equalling his own top mark of 28 points – 25 for the win and three bonus points. Loeb looks pretty happy with second, too.
He might not have won in the next rally, in Finland – Loeb did that – but Ogier seemed fairly relaxed…
In Germany, Ogier was not relaxed. With Loeb announced to be staying with Citroën for another two years, Ogier fell out with the team as he felt they had let Loeb pull rank to allow him to move ahead in Rallye Deutschland – and then Loeb retired anyway, meaning Ogier won. Harsh words between Ogier, his team and his team-mate made for some ugly headlines. Privateer Kimi Räikkönen, meanwhile, got his equal-best result of the season – sixth – in front of these French supporters who’d obviously hopped over into Germany.
Ford ruled Rally Australia, with Hirvonen emerging from this water to take the win. Hirvonen’s team-mate Latvala took second place in Oz.
Petter Solberg was the last man to win the world championship who isn’t Loeb, way back in 2003. He scored his best result of the year in Australia – third – in his privately-entered Citroën DS3.
Ogier was back to winning ways in his home rally after an uncharacteristic early mistake saw Loeb crash out. Here, Ogier’s co-driver Julien Ingrassia triangulates a few points for his pace notes.
MINI’s Sordo fought for the win in France, eventually taking second, an amazing result for such a ‘new’ team.
After his home rally, Loeb headed to Paris for the unveiling of his waxwork at the Musée Grevin. We’re not sure about the teeth, but Monsieur Loeb seems satisfied enough with his passage to immortality in wax.
Loeb (pictured, top of page) seized back the initiative in Spain with victory in the penultimate event of the year. Retirement for Ogier meant he had to accept he wouldn’t achieve a maiden championship in 2011. Second for the evergreen Hirvonen in the Fiesta in Spain meant he’d not finished lower than fourth all year and would go to Rally GB with a chance of the title as Loeb sole challenger.
Kris Meeke was once again behind the wheel of the MINI, making its first return to Rally GB in works guise since the 1960s, in the days when Finn Rauno Aaltonen won the rally in a BMC Mini-Cooper. Meeke recovered from early problems to take a terrific fourth place in Wales in the new BMW iteration.
Disaster struck for Hirvonen on Friday as a tree branch in his radiator forced his retirement. Bizarrely, a damaged radiator then ended Loeb’s charge – but the Frenchman sealed a record eighth title.
Ford’s Jari-Matti Latvala had led the team’s challenge after Hirvonen’s retirement, and Loeb’s exit allowed him to break a long win drought to take his first 2011 victory.
- Official World Rally Championship website wrc.com
- WRC Rally GB report in quotes
- Other motorsport from Red Bull