Loeb strikes early 2004 blow

Sébastien Loeb has scored early psychological points in his bid to go one better and win next year's World Rally Championship. The Frenchman beat Marcus Grönholm in his own Peugeot 206 at the weekend

Loeb strikes early 2004 blow

Loeb defeated the Finn in the same car with which Grönholm won the 2002 world title. Winning the final of the race of champions by two heats to nil, Loeb overcame the disadvantage of an unfamiliar car.

"The Peugeot seemed complicated at first, with a lot to learn," said Loeb. "But I quickly got the hang of it. I was very pleased with how I drove, above all in the final."

Grönholm had no answers in the final: "Maybe I lost concentration, I'm not sure," he said "Basically I made too many mistakes and Sébastien was just too hot today."

Loeb missed out on the 2003 title at the last hurdle in Wales, but is on of the favourites to come out on top next year. Grönholm, who had a terrible second half to his 2003 title defence, will be hoping that next year's Peugeot 306 will allow him to regain his form.

Loeb beat François Duval in his semi-final of the traditional end-of-year fun event. Grönholm qualified for the final by overcoming Gilles Panizzi around the gravel superspecial course.

The world rally stars will next meet up on the Monte Carlo Rally in January for the first round of the 2004 championship.

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