Loeb Cruises to Victory in New Zealand

World Champion Sebastien Loeb claimed his second victory of the season with a convincing win in the New Zealand rally on Sunday

Loeb Cruises to Victory in New Zealand

Driving a Citroen, the Frenchman finished nearly 50 seconds clear of Finland's former twice World Champion Marcus Gronholm in a Peugeot to climb to second place in the championship after four special stages near Auckland.

Petter Solberg of Norway finished third in his Subaru to retain his lead in the standings on 26 points, one clear of Loeb.

"Before the rally I was a little worried about the title situation, but now I'm a lot calmer, being one point behind," Loeb said.

"It's been a tough event but above all I'm pleased with the improvements the team has made to the car.

"If you look at where we were in New Zealand last year, compared to this year, it's clear to say that a lot of progress has been made."

Loeb's Belgian teammate Francois Duval narrowly missed a place on the podium when he took fourth place to collect his first points of the season and lift Citroen ahead of Subaru in the manufacturers' championship.

Peugeot extended their lead in the manufacturers' title when Gronholm's teammate, Estonia's Markko Martin, finished fifth to retain third place in the driver's championship.

Finn Toni Gardemeister finished sixth in a Ford to tie for fourth with Gronholm in the drivers' title race.

"I'm quite pleased with the way that things went on this rally, but the basic problem is that Sebastien was just quicker than us," said Gronholm, who was also runner-up in the previous round in Mexico.

"I realised from halfway through Saturday that there was no way I was going to be able to win.

"It's good to have finished second again. If you can't win, it's always best to be second. These are good results, but if I want to win the championship we have to win rallies."

Loeb went into Sunday's final leg with a massive lead after dominating the first two days north of Auckland, allowing him to drive conservatively.

Gronholm topped the timesheets in Sunday's first three stages to cut the deficit to 40.1 seconds but the Frenchman won the final stage to extend his final advantage to 49.8 seconds and add New Zealand to his win in the season-opening rally in Monaco.

Solberg, who took the previous two rounds in Sweden and Mexico, also eased off the gas on Sunday, finishing 18.9 seconds behind Gronholm but still safely on the podium to keep the championship lead.

"My plan was third or fourth place and we've come away with some good points and the lead of the championship," Solberg said.

"I took it steady and went for the best possible finish. For sure, we have some work to do, but the overall feeling is good.

"I'm feeling very positive about the championship. With 12 more rallies to go, things are looking very interesting."

The next round in the 16-rally championship will be held in Italy on the last weekend of the month.

Result of Rally New Zealand:

Pos Driver Make Time 1. Sebastien Loeb (France) Citroen 3hr 34:51.6 2. Marcus Gronholm (Finland) Peugeot + 49.8 3. Petter Solberg (Norway) Subaru + 1:08.7 4. Francois Duval (Belgium) Citroen + 2:06.3 5. Markko Martin (Estonia) Peugeot + 3:09.1 6. Toni Gardemeister (Finland) Ford + 3:16.3 7. Chris Atkinson (Australia) Subaru + 4:37.2 8. Gianluigi Galli (Italy) Mitsubishi + 6:50.5 9. Harri Rovanpera (Finland) Mitsubishi + 7:44.6 10. Manfred Stohl (Austria) Citroen + 8:15.5 Driver Standings 1. Petter Solberg 26 points 2. Sebastien Loeb 25 3. Markko Martin 23 4. Marcus Gronholm 20 5. Toni Gardemeister 20 6. Harri Rovanpera 11 7. Gilles Panizzi 7 8. Francois Duval 5 9. Henning Solberg 4 10. Daniel Carlsson 3 11. Manfred Stohl 3 12. Gianluigi Galli 3 13. Chris Atkinson 2 14. Antony Warmbold 2 15. Roman Kresta 2 Constructor Standings 1. Peugeot 43 points 2. Citroen 31 3. Subaru 28 4. Ford 26 5. Mitsubishi 24 6. Skoda 4 
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Series WRC
Drivers Sébastien Loeb
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