Germany: Loeb cleans up

Citroen's Sebastien Loeb has taken his fifth rally victory of the season after dominating the action at this weekend's Rally Deutschland. Ford's Francois Duval put up a brave fight to the Frenchman but had to settle for second spot ahead of Citroen's Carlos Sainz. Loeb has now extended his lead in the championship to 32 points after Subaru's Petter Solberg retired on the second leg

Germany: Loeb cleans up

Loeb led the action in Germany from the second stage of the first leg on Friday never once relinquishing his lead, instead extending it with every stage. First he had his team-mate Sainz to contend with, but after Duval hunted the Spaniard down at the end of the second leg it was the Belgian Loeb had to watch.

Duval began the final leg on a mission setting the second quickest time in the first stage of the day - SS18 - which Peugeot's Freddy Loix won, before winning SS19, SS21 and SS22. Duval gradually ate into Loeb's lead, but the Frenchman responded and while not taking a stage win on the final day, he did enough to keep Duval at bay eventually finishing the rally 29.1s ahead of the Ford ace.

"I've really enjoyed the weekend because the weather and roads were so similar to rallies at home in Belgium," Duval said. "The conditions were very difficult, but I've learned a lot and made big progress here. I pushed hard today and really believe I could have won if it had not been for our time loss on Friday. The roads here are unlike anything else in the championship and we've had rain, fog, mud and even a little sunshine. It's been a tough challenge and second is a superb result for me and the team."

It was a rally dictated by appalling weather, with some drivers even calling the tracks 'undriveable'. It came down to choosing the correct tyres for this the first asphalt rally of the season and it was this that guaranteed podium positions for Citroen and Ford's Duval.

Both Loeb and Sainz opted for the softer Michelin tyres for the weekend, a wise decision given the wet and slippery roads. Duval likewise opted for the softer tread allowing him to keep his nose in the Citroen action at the front. His Ford team-mate, Markko Martin, who finished the rally fourth a massive 2m40s off the pace, chose the same tyre but didn't have as heavy a cut on his tyres as Duval had. It proved costly.

By contrast, Subaru's Petter Solberg opted for a medium Pirelli compound which he thought would help him in the later drier stages. The Norwegian didn't get a chance to prove it though for he crashed out during the torrential rain in the early stages of leg two.

"At the moment, I'm not feeling good, and, for sure, the accident wasn't fun, but I'm not too stressed," Solberg said. "There's a long way still to go in the championship and we'll be back again in Japan. We'll be putting on a good show on the gravel, so just watch us go, as we'll be going for the win."

He covered more ground than double-world champion Marcus Gronholm though. The Peugeot driver crashed out on the first corner of the first stage losing his wheel and forcing him out of the rally. The Finn returned to the rally under the SupeRally system winning the final two stages of the event.

With Gronholm out, it was down to Peugeot's other points-nominated driver Cedric Robert to bring points home for the French team. The Frenchman was in the action from the off, but slipped to eighth at the end of the first leg. With a stage win on the second leg on Saturday though, Robert made his way back up the order to finish fifth ahead of his team-mate Freddy Loix.

Skoda's Toni Gardemeister took advantage of the wet conditions that favour the Fabia to take seventh spot and two points for his team while works Subaru driver Mikko Hirvonen snuck into the final points position to stages from the end of the rally to drop French favourite Stephane Sarrazin to ninth.

Mitsubishi hopeful Gilles Panizzi was having a strong rally after finishing the first leg in sixth, but the Frenchman crashed on the first stage of the second leg which forced him out of the event.

"We hit a small tree, which spun us downhill through a field until we hit another tree and stopped," Panizzi said. "The impact was very heavy on my side, but the car stood up to it well. We have both walked away from it just sore and bruised. It was bad luck for us, but on the positive side we showed the asphalt potential of the car and demonstrated we are moving in the right direction."

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