Loeb clinches commanding win

Sebastien Loeb secured his fifth consecutive victory and extended his World Rally Championship points lead by dominating the final morning of the Rally Italia in Sardinia

Loeb clinches commanding win

The result also made Loeb's partner Daniel Elena the most successful co-driver in WRC history, as the victory took the duo's tally to 25, one more than previous record holding navigator Luis Moya.

Loeb's eventual winning margin was almost three minutes, a result that seemed highly unlikely on day one of the rally, when the Citroen was struggling with leading the field through the dusty roads and dropped over 30 seconds behind leader Marcus Gronholm.

Even when Loeb was running in a more favourable position on Saturday morning, he was unable to take any significant time out of Gronholm's advantage. But as it turned out, he didn't even have to try, for Gronholm smashed his Ford's sump on a rock in SS9 and retired immediately.

That left Loeb to nurse an enormous lead through the second half of the rally. Having found it hard to keep a good rhythm when cruising, he decided to push instead and set a series of fastest times despite the total lack of opposition, ultimately winning by two minutes and 41 seconds. The result, combined with Gronholm's retirement, gives Loeb a 31 point championship lead.

Mikko Hirvonen provided some consolation for Ford by taking a career-best second place, surviving a scare on Saturday when he spun and clipped a bank.

Third place looked set to come down to a final morning showdown between Dani Sordo and Gigi Galli, who had swapped the position repeatedly during leg two. Unfortunately Galli had to retire his overheating Peugeot on the way back to the end of leg service, leaving Sordo to take an easy third - his first podium on gravel.

Just to underline the durability of the Kronos Citroen, Xavier Pons made it three Xsara WRCs in the first four places after a trouble-free rally.

The rest of the points positions were decided in the final moments, as late disasters struck both works Subarus.

After a series of problems, Chris Atkinson and Petter Solberg had recovered to fifth and seventh positions, only for Atkinson to crash out in final stage just as Solberg slowed with steering problems and lost three minutes, falling to ninth as a result.

That allowed the delighted Jussi Valimaki to secure fifth place in his private Mitsubishi Lancer - a car that he had barely driven before the rally. Valimaki had begun SS18 just 10.7 seconds ahead of Solberg, and as he pushed hard to retain the position he made a couple of errors, including a spin, so he was pleasantly surprised to actually gain a place in the stage.

Kristian Sohlberg was concerned about tyre wear during the final morning, but hung on to earn sixth place, while the last stage dramas allowed Manfred Stohl and Francois Duval to move into the points despite both drivers struggling with their cars' handling all weekend.

Result:

Pos Driver Make Time 1. Loeb Citroen 3h 54:18.9 2. Hirvonen Ford + 2:41.4 3. Sordo Citroen + 3:27.7 4. Pons Citroen + 5:28.3 5. Valimaki Mitsubishi + 7:08.8 6. Sohlberg Subaru + 7:36.9 7. Stohl Peugeot + 8:18.4 8. Duval Skoda + 9:45.8 9. P Solberg Subaru + 10:19.9 10. Atkinson Subaru + 11:03.9 11. MacHale Ford + 14:59.5 12. Perez Companc Ford + 16:05.5 13. Aigner Skoda + 21:00.8 14. Hanninen Mitsubishi + 28:04.1 15. Sandell Renault + 32:06.3 16. Rautenbach Renault + 37:14.7 17. Kopecky Skoda + 37:16.8 18. Aava Suzuki + 37:43.1 19. Scorcioni Subaru + 37:46.3 20. Rovanpera Skoda + 38:57.1 
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Series WRC
Drivers Sébastien Loeb
Author Matt Beer
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