team leader, Sebastien Loeb
has won the Rally d'Italia Sardegna, the seventh round in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship, to take his fifth win in succession.
Although the Frenchman lost out on day one when he had to run first on the road, sweeping away the loose gravel, something that meant he ended the first leg more than 30 seconds off Marcus Gronholm, he inherited the lead on the second stage on Saturday, when the Ford driver hit a rock and was forced out. After that Loeb was in a class of his own and was never under any pressure, except to get the car to the finish and avoid making a mistake. At the finish he was more than 2.5 minutes up on his nearest rival, after yet another dominant display.
Loeb's only real scare came on Saturday, when he hit the same rock that claimed Gronholm, the Frenchman though suffered no damage and continued on his way, to win the event for the second year running.
The result further extends his lead in the drivers' championship - from 21 points to 31, while Daniel Elena, Loeb's co-driver, is now the most successful co-pilot in the history of WRC in terms of event wins, with 25 victories to his name. Loeb meanwhile is just one short of equally the record held by Carlos Sainz, who won 26 WRC events during his time in the sport.
Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile took the runners-up spot, some consolation for Ford after Gronholm's demise. Hirvonen took it easy on the final day in order to make sure he took second, his best result of the season and also incidentally the best of his career to date.
Daniel Sordo and Xavier Pons gave Kronos even more to cheer about by taking third and fourth respectively, the former again shining in the Xsara and notching up his third 'senior' podium since graduating from the Junior WRC. Sordo's podium, on only his third outing with the car on gravel was remarkable, especially as he has more experience on asphalt. Pons also went well and in finishing fourth, secured 6 manufacturers' points for the Belgian team, as Sordo was not nominated. Kronos therefore increased their lead in the manufacturers', from 12 points to 20.
Further-down the order, Jussi Valimaki was fifth in his privately entered Mitsubishi, while Kristian Sohlberg took sixth, on his second WRC outing with the Red Devil Atoyle Kazaz outfit.
OMV Peugeot's Manfred Stohl ended up picking up two points in the drivers' championship, despite not being happy with his 307 for most of the event, while First Motorsport's Francois Duval took eighth and the final drivers' point, the best placed of the Skoda's.
The works Subaru's of Petter Solberg
and Chris Atkinson
ended up ninth and tenth, after a disastrous final stage, which saw both drivers' hit problems, the former slipping from seventh to ninth after he bent a steering arm, while Atkinson lost five places after going off the road, when he missed his braking point. The impact damaged the Impreza's front-left suspension and Atkinson stopped by the side of the road. Under the FIA SupeRally regulations though, the Aussie was still classified tenth, picking up a 5 minute penalty for failing to complete the final test.