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Loeb on course for record victory

Sebastien Loeb moved closer to a record fifth Monte Carlo Rally win by establishing a lead of over two minutes during the penultimate leg of the event

With his Citroen teammate - and only realistic challenger - Dani Sordo having retired with an engine problem in SS11 this morning, Loeb was able to take a relaxed approach to this afternoon's loop. Despite having no need to push, he still won two of this afternoon's three stages.

"It's really good," said Loeb. "I tried to drive very fast all day, but not to take too many risks in some places. I just tried to have fun in the stages.

"The stages are really nice, there's a great atmosphere. It's perfect."

Sordo's retirement also allowed Mikko Hirvonen to back off. The Ford driver had been frustrated by his inability to catch the second-placed Spaniard, but inherited the position once Sordo stopped. With no chance of catching Loeb and a comfortable margin over the rest of the field, Hirvonen has switched to conservative mode for the rest of the event.

"Sebastien's far away and Chris (Atkinson) is quite far behind, so I can just cruise and have a look at how they're doing," he said.

Hirvonen's Ford teammate Jari-Matti Latvala's troubled rally got even worse when he stopped with suspension damage in SS12 and had to retire from the leg. Latvala was already running nine minutes off the pace at the foot of the top ten having lost time with a puncture on the opening evening and then hydraulic problems this morning.

Although the lead battle appears settled, there is still a close contest for the final podium spot - although Atkinson (Subaru) did his best to break the pursuing Francois Duval's challenge by putting on a charge through this afternoon's loop.

Atkinson won stage 12 and will take a 20-second cushion over the Stobart Ford driver going into the deciding day.

"Twenty seconds is quite a lot for tomorrow," Duval admitted. "But today was not so bad, some very good times in fact."

Atkinson's Subaru teammate Petter Solberg remains a lonely sixth, with Gigi Galli (Stobart Ford) now more secure in seventh after easing clear of Peugeot 307 privateer Jean-Marie Cuoq.

"This morning apart, when I was slipping, everything is going okay," Galli said. "We're trying to enjoy the car and get to know him."

Suzuki are enjoying an extremely promising start to their first full season with the SX4 WRC, with drivers PG Andersson and Toni Gardemeister ending day three in eighth and tenth positions, having each set top six stage times during the leg.

"A very good day - six perfect stages without any problems and very good times," Andersson said. "We're very pleased."

After being delayed by myriad technical problems in the first half of the rally, Gardemeister made great progress this afternoon and looked set to overhaul Henning Solberg (Stobart Ford) for ninth by the final stage.

However concern over rising engine temperatures encouraged him to back off, leaving the Suzuki six seconds behind Solberg.

Leading positions after day three:

Pos  Driver        Car      Time
 1.  Loeb          Citroen  2h50:38.8
 2.  Hirvonen      Ford     +  2:10.6
 3.  Atkinson      Subaru   +  3:02.6
 4.  Duval         Ford     +  3:22.7
 5.  P Solberg     Subaru   +  4:11.8
 6.  Galli         Ford     +  7:39.7
 7.  Cuoq          Peugeot  +  8:19.7
 8.  Andersson     Suzuki   +  9:31.8
 9.  H Solberg     Ford     + 11:17.0
10.  Gardemeister  Suzuki   + 11:23.4

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