Fri, Nov 30, 2007 - Page 23 News List

Sebastien Loeb is on the verge of rally greatness

AFP , CARDIFF

Sebastien Loeb heads into Wales Rally GB, the 16th and final leg of the World Rally Championships, assured of a fourth consecutive world title should he finish in the top five.

Loeb, driving a Citroen, stands on 110 points after 15 stages of the championships, six ahead of Marcus Gronholm.

Should the two-time former world champion Finn win, then Loeb need only finish in the top five to win another title to match Tommi Makinen (1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999) in the record books.

But the extreme conditions of the 17 gravel stages through often fog-bound and icily treacherous woods and valleys in South Wales mean that nothing is a given.

"Since I became the director of Citroen Sport 19 years ago, I have repeatedly said that rallying is the most unpredictable form of motor sport," said Guy Frequelin, who oversees Loeb's campaign.

"I'm not going to change my tune just because this is my last rally as team boss, especially since the 2007 title will be decided on such a notorious event as Wales Rally GB.

"The usual imponderables relating to the cars' mechanicals and the possibility of a driver error are even more pronounced on this event. Its extreme conditions make it very complex.

"We have a real chance and we are all very motivated, but I am still very much on my guard," Frequelin said.

Loeb's closest rival, Gronholm, has it all to race for: The 39-year-old Finn, who drives for the recently crowned manufacturers' champions Ford, will retire after the race in South Wales, his 150th in his rallying career.

Gronholm, who has been given a clean bill of health after crashing last week in Ireland, has won twice from 10 previous GB Rally starts, last year providing Ford with its first British win since 1979.

"It will be difficult to win the title but I have a chance and have to make the most of that opportunity," he said, citing national pride as an additional reason to seek out victory.

"What happened in Formula 1 is a good example. With two races left, Kimi Raikkonen had a big gap to make up to win the title -- and succeeded.

"That's a big spur for me because for Finland to win both the Formula 1 and the WRC titles would be something special for my country.

"I don't feel under pressure because it is out of my hands now. All I can do is try to win the rally and hope Seb has problems.

"This is my 150th WRC start so it would be great to mark that and my last rally with a victory. But it's the title I'm thinking about. I would swap a win for a top three finish and the title if that was all that was required," Gronholm said.

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