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Sebastien Ogier brings himself back into title hunt with Rally of France victory

Sebastien Ogier, Citroen, France 2011Sebastien Ogier is now just three points behind Sebastien Loeb with two rounds of the World Rally Championship to go after winning a hard-fought Rally of France.

Loeb had led the first two stages of his home event, only to suffer a rare Citroen engine problem on SS3 and have to retire.

That left his team-mate Ogier in a huge three-way battle with Petter Solberg (Solberg Citroen) and Dani Sordo - who was driving a remarkable rally in the new Mini.

All three had spells in the lead, and while Solberg fell back to third with a puncture on Saturday, Sordo kept the pressure on Ogier until the end.

Ogier had got his lead up to 9.5s on Saturday night, only for Sordo to strike back and get it back down to 4.9s on day three's first three stages. But Ogier was able to edge clear again on the home stretch and secure a vital fifth win of the year by 6.3s.

"Very good feeling, it was a bit difficult at the end, I had a not so good drive on the power stage but the most important thing is to get the victory," said Ogier. "For sure it's good for the championship, now we'll have to do two good last rallies of the season."

Sordo admitted to some disappointment at not winning, but was still thrilled to claim Mini's best

"It's incredible," said Sordo. "A little bit disappointed because in the end I didn't take the victory, but we have to be happy."

Ford was unable to fully capitalise on Loeb's misfortune. Both Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala made mistakes on Friday morning, and the former was off the pace all weekend - requiring team orders to receive Latvala's fourth place on the final stage. Latvala checked in early at the pre-SS23 regroup to take a two-minute penalty and fall to fifth. Hirvonen is also now within three points of Loeb in the standings.

FERM Ford driver Dennis Kuipers produced his best WRC performance yet to hold off Henning Solberg's Stobart Ford and take sixth.

Three punctures relegated Mads Ostberg to eighth in another Stobart entry, while team-mate Evgeny Novikov had a puncture on Friday then crashed on Saturday.

Ken Block was another man showing his best WRC form to date as he took the Monster Ford to ninth, just ahead of Pierre Campana, driving a Mini entered by the French federation. Armindo Araujo looked set for seventh in another private Mini before crashing out this morning.

Ott Tanak moved into the S2000 championship lead by taking a dominant win on a weekend when rival Juho Hanninen was delayed by a puncture then crashed while trying to fight back.

Leading finishers after SS23:

Pos  Driver                Team/Car                  Time/Gap
 1.  Sebastien Ogier       Citroen                 3h06m20.4s
 2.  Dani Sordo            Mini                        + 6.3s
 3.  Petter Solberg        Solberg Citroen          + 1m23.8s
 4.  Mikko Hirvonen        Ford                     + 3m26.6s
 5.  Jari-Matti Latvala    Ford                     + 3m30.3s
 6.  Dennis Kuipers        FERM Ford                + 6m42.0s
 7.  Henning Solberg       Stobart Ford             + 7m08.3s
 8.  Mads Ostberg          Stobart Ford             + 7m58.3s
 9.  Ken Block             Monster Ford             + 8m25.5s
10.  Pierre Campana        France Mini              + 8m38.7s

Other WRC finishers:

11.  Matthew Wilson        Stobart Ford            + 10m00.8s
13.  Khalid Al Qassimi     Abu Dhabi Ford          + 12m28.2s
24.  Evgeny Novikov        Stobart Ford            + 39m25.8s

WRC retirements:

     Armindo Araujo        Italia Mini                   SS18
     Daniel Oliveira       Brazil Mini                   SS15
     Kris Meeke            Mini                          SS13
     Peter van Merksteijn  Van Merksteijn Citroen         SS8
     Sebastien Loeb        Citroen                        SS3
     Kimi Raikkonen        Ice 1 Citroen                  SS3

Leading power stage times:

Pos  Driver                Team/Car                  Time/Gap
 1.  Jari-Matti Latvala    Ford                       3m09.4s
 2.  Dani Sordo            Mini                        + 2.1s
 3.  Sebastien Ogier       Citroen                     + 2.5s
 4.  Mikko Hirvonen        Ford                        + 2.5s
 5.  Matthew Wilson        Stobart Ford                + 4.6s
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