Sebastien Loeb erased the memory of 2007 as he secured his maiden win on Rally Norway, holding off the challenge of Mikko Hirvonen to take his WRC win tally closer to an amazing half century.
Loeb endured a nightmare event when Norway first appeared on the WRC schedule two years ago, making rare mistakes on back-to-back stages on the second day to drop well out of contention before eventually finishing down in 14th place.
The Frenchman battled for the lead with Ford rival Mikko Hirvonen throughout the three days and took the lead on the final test of leg one when Hirvonen slowed to secure a better road position for leg two.
However, Loeb was able to retain his lead through the second day and extended his advantage to go into the final day of stages – the longest of the event – with a lead of 15 seconds.
Despite losing time on the first stage of the day, Loeb then extended his advantage before the mid-day service but once again saw Hirvonen close in heading into the final stage of the event. However, Loeb was quicker than the Finn through the final test to secure the win by just 9.8 seconds, making Rally Norway the 20th WRC event he has now tasted victory on.
"It's sometimes nice when it's stops,” he reflected at the finish. “Mentally, this has been a very tough rally. It got very tense when I learnt that Mikko had narrowed the gap on this morning's first stage, but we didn't ease up, even if that did mean having one or two hairy moments!
“Going into the last stage, I knew that even a small mistake would ruin all the hard work we have put in this weekend. Everything turned out well, however, and it's great to have won this rally for the first time. It's been a fantastic rally and the conditions were perfect form start to finish. Our C4 WRC was a big ally, too, in terms of both its performance and its reliability."
Loeb's latest victory means he now holds a six point lead heading to the third round of the year in Cyprus, but the Frenchman admitted it would be a tough event with the teams being forced to use gravel tyres on what will be a mixed-surface event.
“For me, if we do a mixed rally, it would be good to have tarmac tyres and brakes for the tarmac day and gravel for the gravel,” he said. “Now we have to drive the (gravel) tyre on tarmac, we have to test. I don't think it's a good idea. We can't push; we can do three days gravel or two days gravel and one proper day on tarmac. The tarmac is the first day, so we'll see some tactics there.”
Should Loeb win in Cyprus, it would be his 50th WRC win.