Five-times world champ Sebastien Loeb may have won a nailbiting Wales Rally GB by just 2.7-seconds when he slithered through the final stage at Port Talbot 4.9s quicker than Ford’s longtime leader Jari-Matti Latvala, but Ellon’s Barry Clark confirmed he has a place amongst the world’s elite.
The 26-year-old Aberdeenshire driver, making his first appearance in Britain’s premier rally event behind the wheel of his 300hp, four-wheel-drive Stobart Ford Focus World Rally Car, was thrilled with his top 10 finish.
“I’ve achieved everything I set out to do,” Clark, who became the first Scot to tackle a round of the World Rally Championship when he finished 12th in the Jordan Rally earlier this year, said today after making his way back to Cardiff.
“Because of the mixture of ice and water, the stages over the past three days have been treacherous. Knowing when we had grip and when we didn’t made life very difficult and at times it was hard just to keep the car on the track.
“But I started the event knowing I had to perform to show the team and my backers that i have the skill, application and determination to make in the world rally championship. Finishing 10th on my first outing here in a WRC car is fantastic.”
Clark started the final four stages in 11th and harbouring hopes of overtaking his more experienced Stobart team-mate Matthew Wilson to finish top Brit.
But having closed the 61.2sec gap to 57.4s after the first run through the 17-miler at Rheola, Wilson hit back to outpace the Scot by 2.8s through the next stage, the 12-miler at Port Talbot.
“Of course I would have loved to have beaten Matthew,” Clark admitted. “He’s had four years in a world rally car while I’ve only done four events, and this is my first on gravel.
“Once he got the gap back over the minute mark I decided just to pace myself trough the final two stages and make sure we finished in the top 10. But to get so close to him, I think is fantastic. I think I’ve done really well this week.”
While the two Brits had to satisfy themselves with ninth and tenth-place finishes, Loeb reaffirmed his position as the best driver of his generation winning his 11th rally of the year and claiming Wales Rally GB for the first time.
Loeb was behind Latvala, who took the lead late on Friday, right up until the final half-mile of the closing stage, the second run through Port Talbot. Entering the final stage 2.2s behind the Finn, the Frenchman delivered a masterful finale.
“I pushed the car as hard as I could every inch of the stage,” Loeb explained. “I couldn’t possibly have gone any quicker, believe me. It was really incredible, but I didn’t like it because it would have been so easy to make a big mistake and wreck everything.”
Latvala meanwhile was quick to heap praise on Loeb whose win clinched also clinched the manufacturers’ championship for Citroen.
“The better man won today,” the BP Ford team driver. “Believe me, I tried to go as fast as I could and I’m satisfied I couldn’t have gone any quicker. I know I couldn’t do any better.”
Further down the field there was delight for 29-year-old Borderer, Gordon Nichol. Piloting his two-wheel-drive Suzuki Swift, the Melrose driver won his class and finished 45th overall.
“Absolutely brilliant,” Nichol beamed. “We struggled with traction because the four-wheel-drive cars polished the surface through most of the stages which meant it was difficult for us to get the power down.
“Today was a bit hairy in places. On the first stage we slid wide and scattered marshals everywhere, then on the next we nose-dived after a jump and all I could see filling my screen was road. But a Class win in Wales Rally GB is a big, big achievement.”