Jarmo Lehtinen (left), Mikko Hirvonen, Daniel Elena, Sebastien Loeb, Dani Sordo and Marc Marti celebrate at the end of the Repco Rally Australia.
Jarmo Lehtinen (left), Mikko Hirvonen, Daniel Elena, Sebastien Loeb, Dani Sordo and Marc Marti celebrate at the end of the Repco Rally Australia.

Loeb forgives Repco Rally error

GUTTED French driver Sebastien Loeb has forgiven his team for fitting an illegal anti-roll bar link which saw him relegated to second in the Repco Rally Australia on Sunday night.

Loeb, and his Citroen Total team-mates Dani Sordo and Sebastien Ogier, were each given a one-minute penalty from stewards hours after he accepted the rally winner’s trophy amid fireworks and champagne at the Cudgen Rugby League Club.

The Citroen team decided not to appeal the stewards’ decision following the World Rally Championship leg that was staged around the Tweed and Kyogle shires for three days.

“I am obviously disappointed, but you’ve got to accept it when the regulations are applied,” Loeb told the WRC website.

“Instead of being just one point behind Mikko Hirvonen, I now have a five-point deficit to make up.
“That clearly complicates matters regarding our bid to win a sixth title but this won’t have any effect on our determination to win in Spain.”

Hirvonen leads the driver’s championship on 78 points, with Loeb on 73 and Sordo on 50. Loeb is the defending five-time world champion. Two rallies remain this season in Spain and Great Britain.

Loeb is favoured to claim next month’s Spanish race – he has previously won it four times – which is held mostly on tarmac while the Britain rally remains wide open.

Olivier Quesnel, the boss of Citroen Total Racing, apologised to his lead drivers for the technical irregularity which cost him the rally and possibly this year’s championship.

“We accept the decision given that the photo on the homologation form does not match the part fitted to the car,” he told the WRC website.

“The difference had no effect on either the performance or reliability of the car; it was simply due to an administrative error and does not stem from any desire to cheat.

“On behalf of the team, I would personally like to apologise to Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena who scored a superb victory on the stages this weekend.”

For Hirvonen, it was a disappointing end to the rally as he was unable to celebrate in front of the big crowd at Kingscliff.

Indeed, circumstances unfolded so quickly that the flying Finn left the Northern Rivers without the winner’s trophy.

Rally organisers said they would ensure Hirvonen would receive the trophy in due course.
“It’s a shame that after such a thrilling battle for three days the result of the rally is decided in the stewards’ room,” the 29-year-old said.

“I suffered a points loss in Portugal two years ago, so I know how Sebastien, in particular, must feel tonight.

“This decision has a major effect on the championship standings and we now go to Spain with a five-point lead.”

Rally Australia organisers were unconcerned the inaugural showpiece race finished in controversial circumstances.

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