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Loeb closing on Ireland victory

Sebastien Loeb, Citroen, Rally Ireland 2009Sebastien Loeb is cruising towards victory in the Rally Ireland, with just the two Donegal stages between him and his 48th World Rally Championship win.

The reigning champion drove carefully through this morning's three stages, which saw much better conditions than the previous two days had brought. Loeb was still fastest in SS16 and now leads his Citroen teammate Dani Sordo by 1:23.

Ford's Mikko Hirvonen won stages 15 and 17, but with the Citroen duo far ahead, this made no difference to his third position.

Chris Atkinson has now moved up to fourth for the Citroen Junior Team, leaping ahead of Stobart Ford's Henning Solberg in the day's opening stage. Solberg hasn't given up on the position, though, and is just 4.9 seconds behind the Australian going into the deciding loop.

The battle for sixth briefly came alive again when Matthew Wilson (Stobart Ford) took 14 seconds out of Sebastien Ogier (Citroen Junior) in SS15. But Ogier raised his pace in the next stage, and Wilson conceded defeat after losing time with a small error.

Ford's Khalid Al Qassimi is on course for his first championship point in eighth place, while early rally leader Urmo Aava (Stobart Ford) has now climbed back into the top ten via the Superally system following his Saturday crash.

In the Junior WRC class, Aaron Burkart is closing on his maiden victory, leading Martin Prokop by over a minute. Hans Weijs Jr, who had battled with Burkart in the first half of the event, spent the night in hospital for observation following his massive SS14 accident, but has escaped serious injury.

Leading positions after SS17:

Pos  Driver             Car      Time
 1.  Sebastien Loeb     Citroen  2h38:49.6
 2.  Dani Sordo         Citroen  +  1:23.0
 3.  Mikko Hirvonen     Ford     +  2:26.1
 4.  Chris Atkinson     Citroen  +  6:41.5
 5.  Henning Solberg    Ford     +  6:46.4
 6.  Sebastien Ogier    Citroen  + 10:27.5
 7.  Matthew Wilson     Ford     + 10:57.8
 8.  Khalid Al Qassimi  Ford     + 13:40.1
 9.  Eamonn Boland      Subaru   + 14:39.5
10.  Urmo Aava          Ford     + 15:17.3

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