Citroen's Sebastien Loeb has won the Rally de Espana today to secure his fifth win of the season.
Loeb went into the final leg with a 27.6 second advantage and he managed to extend that cushion slightly this morning to go into the final three stages with another 3.5 seconds in hand. The Frenchman could then take it relatively cautiously on the repeat runs and he eventually triumphed with ease.
Loeb now re-takes the outright lead in the drivers' championship and thanks to the extra point he got in the Power Stage, will go to Wales Rally GB next month for the season finale, 8 points up on Mikko Hirvonen. His win was also enough to give Citroen the manufacturers' title.
Hirvonen meanwhile had a difficult event and struggled on days one and two. It wasn't until the final leg that he finally seemed to find his feet. He still took second however, as Jari-Matti Latvala once again played the team game and prior to the final test the 26-year-old checked in early to pick up a 2 minute penalty.
Latvala had pushed Loeb hard on Saturday and would have been closer to the Frenchman had he not made a mistake on Friday in the night stage. The Finn got caught out by the hanging dust in SS6 – a issue on a number of the opening day's mainly gravel tests – and after a spin and a puncture slipped from first to second, losing more than 40 seconds in total. Still it was an impressive showing from him and in total he won six stages.
Local star Dani Sordo was next up and fourth for the MINI WRT. The Spaniard came under pressure today from Sebastien Ogier, until engine problems sidelined the young Frenchman in SS17. Ogier's retirement ends his championship hopes.
Kris Meeke took P5 in the other MINI WRT John Cooper Works WRC car, his best result to date in the WRC and he marked the accomplishment in style, by winning the Power Stage, 0.2 seconds up on Sordo.
Mads Ostberg rounded out the top six for the M-Sport Stobart Ford team, ahead of Evgeny Novikov, who got the better of Henning Solberg late on to secure seventh. Dennis Kuipers and Juho Hanninen took positions 9 and 10, the latter taking the SWRC class win and the SWRC title.
In addition to Ogier's late retirement, Matthew Wilson also stopped in the penultimate stage. He had been running tenth until he took off a wheel.
Petter Solberg and Kimi Raikkonen also retired, but both went out on Friday. Solberg ripped off a wheel in SS1, when he got caught out by hanging dust, while engine issues stopped Raikkonen in SS3.
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To view the latest championship standings - CLICK HERERally de Espana: Overall standings after Stage 18 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Loeb
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 4hours 05mins 39.3secs
2. Mikko Hirvonen
Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +02mins 06.9secs
3. Jari-Matti Latvala
Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +02mins 32.4secs
4. Dani Sordo
MINI WRT John Cooper Works +03mins 24.1secs
5. Kris Meeke
MINI WRT John Cooper Works +05mins 15.0secs
6. Mads Ostberg
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +05mins 54.2secs
7. Evgeny Novikov
Citroen DS3 WRC +09mins 31.8secs
8. Henning Solberg
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +09mins 40.1secs
9. Dennis Kuipers
FERM Powertools Ford Fiesta RS WRC +11mins 13.8secs
10. Juho Hanninen
Skoda Fabia S2000 +13mins 49.2secs
11. Nasser Al-Attiyah
Ford Fiesta S2000 +14mins 04.1secs
12. Khalid Al-Qassimi
Team Abu Dhabi Fiesta RS WRC +14mins 39.0secs
13. Martin Prokop
Ford Fiesta S2000 +14mins 46.9secs
16. Federico Villagra
Munchi's Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +17mins 36.6secs
17. Peter van Merksteijn
Van Merksteijn Citroen DS3 WRC +18mins 45.7secs
21. Patrik Flodin
Subaru Impreza +24mins 01.4secs
25. Daniel Oliviera
Brazil WRT MINI John Cooper Works +38mins 50.0secs
MRally de Espana: Power Stage / SS18 (Top 3):
1. Kris Meeke
MINI WRT John Cooper Works 2mins 45.7secs
2. Dani Sordo
MINI WRT John Cooper Works +00mins 00.2secs
3. Sebastien Loeb
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 04.9secs
MNOTE: Top three finishers in Power Stage are awarded bonus points. 1st = 3 points; 2nd = 2 points; 3rd = 1 pointSWRC standings after Stage 18 (Top 3):
1. Juho Hanninen
Skoda Fabia S2000 4hours 19mins 28.5secs
2. Nasser Al-Attiyah
Ford Fiesta S2000 +00mins 14.9secs
3. Martin Prokop
Ford Fiesta S2000 +00mins 57.7secs
SPWRC standings after Stage 18 (Top 3):
1. Patrik Flodin
Subaru Impreza 4hours 29mins 40.7secs
2. Michal Kosciuszko
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +00mins 02.0secs
3. Benito Guerra
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +09mins 45.5secs
SS1. Petter Solberg
PSWRT Citroen DS3 WRC Broken wheel
SS1. Ken Block
Monster WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Broken steering
SS3. Kimi Raikkonen
ICE1 Racing Citroen DS3 WRC Engine
SS13. Armindo Araujo
Motorsport Italia MINI John Cooper Works Mechanical
SS13. Ken Block
Monster WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Stopped in stage
SS17. Sebastien Ogier
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC Engine.
SS17. Matthew Wilson
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC Took a wheel off
* denotes re-started under SupeRallyall times unofficial