Sat 03 Jun 2023

Loeb vs. Grönholm: Old rivalry revived in pulsating Portuguese duel

Sébastien Loeb and Marcus Grönholm indulged in many a close and entertaining battle in the FIA World Rally Championship during the 2000s, and that iconic rivalry was rekindled at Montalegre today, as Niclas Grönholm picked up the baton during a crowd-pleasing duel with his French rival at World RX of Portugal.

Sébastien Loeb and Marcus Grönholm indulged in many a close and entertaining battle in the FIA World Rally Championship during the 2000s, and that iconic rivalry was rekindled at Montalegre today, as Niclas Grönholm picked up the baton during a crowd-pleasing duel with his French rival at World RX of Portugal.

After lapping sixth and ninth-quickest in the single-lap SuperPole session, Loeb and Grönholm began their opening heat race from first and fourth on the grid respectively. Fired-up by the mistake that had cost him a better starting position, the Finn swept around the outside of all of his adversaries into Turn One to seize the initiative.

Loeb, however, was not willing to lie down without a fight, and he proceeded to hassle the Construction Equipment Dealer Team driver throughout. Diving into the joker on the penultimate tour in an effort to gain the undercut, the Frenchman’s strategy appeared to have paid off as he seized the lead when Grönholm followed suit on the last lap – but the story was not over yet.

With the Lancia Delta Evo-e RX running deep on the exit of the corner, the PWR RX1e reclaimed the advantage on the outside, thrilling fans as both cars got considerably out-of-shape on what was by then quite a damp track surface – before being swiftly rescued by the razor-sharp reactions of the men behind the wheel.

“I think I was a bit too conservative,” mused Grönholm. “The grip was surprisingly good. I received a big hit in Turn Four on lap one, and I was a bit too cautious after that. It was a bit too tight with Mr. Loeb, but for once, a Grönholm came out on top!”

“After free practice, I thought I would be able to see the cars over the wall during their joker lap, but in reality, you can’t see anything,” added Loeb. “I knew that Niclas was going to come on my right, but I didn’t know when, so I delayed my braking as late as I could. A bit too late, as it turned out...”

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