Loeb Wins 2nd Consecutive Title

Citroen's Sebastien Loeb comfortably retained his World Rally Championship title by taking second place in the Rally of Japan on Sunday

Loeb Wins 2nd Consecutive Title

The Frenchman needed a podium finish in the 13th of the 16 rounds of the Championship to ensure he became the fourth man to win back-to-back titles.

Loeb finished runner-up to Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm, whose second victory of the year was assured when Subaru driver Petter Solberg retired just 30 kilometres from the end.

Only Solberg and Gronholm had a mathematical chance of preventing Loeb from retaining the title in Japan.

Solberg was leading Gronholm by a comfortable 20 seconds on the penultimate stage 25 when the Norwegian was forced to retire after hitting a rock.

Race winner Gronholm covered the 350-kilometre course in three hours 25.32 seconds, 1.22 seconds faster than Loeb.

"To be honest, it didn't matter if I was first, second or third in this rally -- I just wanted to win the Championship," said Loeb.

"I didn't want to get at all involved in the battle with Petter and Marcus because I would have been very annoyed with myself if I'd gone off as a result of me chasing them and then making a mistake."

Solberg's Australian team mate Chris Atkinson secured his first podium finish for Subaru with third after picking his way through the trouble in his path on the final five stages.

Record Wins

Loeb joins Finnish drivers Juha Kankkunen (1986-1987) and Tommi Makinen (1996-1999) and Italian Massimo Biasion (1988-1989) in winning consecutive titles.

Loeb's eight rally wins so far this season is already a record, breaking his own mark of six victories on his way to the title last year.

The 31-year-old also set the record for successive rally wins with six victories in a row earlier this season.

Loeb is the second Frenchman to win the world title, after Didier Auriol, the 1994 Champion.

Loeb increased his Championship points total to an unassailable 107 with Finland's Gronholm improving to 71 to move past Solberg's 65.

Solberg was sorely disappointed to miss out on his first victory since Mexico in March but said he had no choice but to retire after damaging his suspension.

"We could do nothing to avoid the rock, it was right in the line," he said. "It happened so fast and that was that. I'm absolutely gutted. There's nothing more to say."

Top 10 results - Rally of Japan:

Pos  Driver             Make        Time
 1.  Marcus Groenholm   Peugeot     3h 25:32.0
 2.  Sebastien Loeb     Citroen     +   1:22.1
 3.  Chris Atkinson     Subaru      +   2:40.0
 4.  Francois Duval     Citroen     +   2:59.4
 5.  Harri Rovanpera    Mitsubishi  +   3:59.8
 6.  Toni Gardemeister  Ford        +   4:32.3
 7.  Roman Kresta       Ford        +   5:32.0
 8.  Daniel Carlsson    Peugeot     +   6:39.1
 9.  Antony Warmbold    Ford        +   7:39.3
10.  Armin Schwarz      Skoda       +  12:07.4
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