Citroen's Sebastien Loeb
has won Rally de Espana and with Mikko Hirvonen
taking the runners-up spot, the stage is set now for a thrilling title showdown in Wales in three weeks time.
Loeb and Hirvonen went into the twelfth and penultimate round in the 2011 World Rally
Championship tied on points at the top of the drivers' championship. However after misfortune in Germany, Australia and France, Seb bounced back in Catalunya.
The seven-time WRC champion had expected to lose out sweeping the road on day one's mostly gravel tests, but on the opening loop, running first on the road proved to be advantageous for once and his rivals all struggled in the hanging dust clouds. Organisers increased the gap between the runners from 3 to 4 minutes on the second loop, but in the final test, run at night, it was again an issue, and so Loeb ended the day 30.6 seconds up on Jari-Matti Latvala.
Overnight the cars were all converted to asphalt spec and despite the switch to the 'black stuff', Loeb didn't have it easy on day two. Indeed Latvala kept the pressure well and truly on and he would have been a bigger threat, if he hadn't lost over 40 seconds on Friday night with a spin and puncture in SS6.
As it was Loeb more or less maintained his advantage though throughout Saturday's 144 competitive kilometres, and on the final day he actually stretched his cushion slightly before the final three tests.
He eventually won by over 2 minutes, although the margin was skewed after Latvala purposely picked up a 2 minute penalty before SS18, so as to bump his team-mate up a place.
“It was really a good rally for us,” Loeb told the official WRC site. “We've done the perfect race I would say, no mistakes. We have one point too in the Power Stage. We've done the best we could.”
Loeb now re-takes the outright lead in the drivers' championship following his fifth win of the year and thanks to the extra point he got in the Power Stage, will go to Wales eight points up on Hirvonen. His win was also enough to give Citroen
the manufacturers' crown.
It wasn't all good though for Citroen, and with Sebastien Ogier
forced out in the penultimate stage due to an engine problem it is now a two-horse race in the drivers' championship.