Loeb clinches Sardinia victory

Sebastien Loeb resisted two days of pressure from the closing Ford duo to clinch victory in the Rally Italia-Sardinia

Loeb clinches Sardinia victory

The world champion had dominated the opening day, but consequently had to run first on the dusty roads on Saturday and Sunday, allowing Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala to reel him in.

Ford's Finnish duo had started leg two one minute and 90 seconds behind Loeb respectively, yet finished just 10.6 (Hirvonen) and 15.3 seconds (Latvala) adrift after a thrilling charge through the final two days.

It looked like the finish might be even closer as Loeb lost 10 seconds to the Fords in the Monte Olia stage today, but the Citroen driver found more favourable stage conditions in Sorilis and was able to hang on.

"It was important for me to score some good points because Mikko was leading the championship," he said. "It was a difficult rally - I had to push a lot all the time and the times weren't so good because we were leading on the road, but the most important thing is to win."

The win - Loeb's third of the season - brings him back to within three points of championship leader Hirvonen.

"I'm happy with second after we were so slow on Friday when we were the first car on the road," Hirvonen said.

Latvala's third place was particularly praiseworthy after an error in the rally's second stage left him with a puncture and caused him to plummet down to 14th position.

"Saturday was a perfect day, I'm very satisfied," Latvala said. "This morning we had a big fight with Mikko, and he was faster in the first two stages, so after that we decided second place was for Mikko and third was for me. But on Friday we didn't think we would even be in the top five, so I'm very happy."

Home favourite Gigi Galli (Stobart Ford) also suffered a puncture on Friday, then recovered superbly to beat Loeb's teammate Dani Sordo to fourth. Sordo had looked set to back Loeb up in a Citroen one-two after day one, but struggled badly with the stage conditions on the following days.

The rally briefly looked very promising for Subaru, with both Chris Atkinson and Petter Solberg holding third at different points during leg one. Drastic problems getting heat into their tyres caused them to lose time on Saturday, however, and Solberg was also delayed by a puncture. Atkinson ultimately finished sixth, with Solberg recovering to 10th after passing Subaru privateer Mads Ostberg and Stobart Ford's Matthew Wilson in the final stages.

Henning Solberg (Munchi's Ford) won a long battle for seventh with semi-works Citroen driver Urmo Aava, while Per-Gunnar Andersson had a highly encouraging run to ninth for Suzuki. His teammate Toni Gardemeister was also on course for the top ten until stopping with suspension damage late on Saturday.

Leading finishers:

Pos Driver Car Time 1. Loeb Citroen 3h57:17.2 2. Hirvonen Ford + 10.6 3. Latvala Ford + 15.3 4. Galli Ford + 1:42.5 5. Sordo Citroen + 2:05.6 6. Atkinson Subaru + 5:08.6 7. H Solberg Ford + 6:01.0 8. Aava Citroen + 6:21.3 9. Andersson Suzuki + 7:48.7 10. P Solberg Subaru + 9:41.0 
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Series WRC
Drivers Sébastien Loeb
Author Matt Beer
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