Citroen number one driver Sebastien Loeb
has taken a convincing victory on the rain-affected Rally Ireland, although he did experience a couple of scares en-route
, including one in the penultimate stage.
Loeb, who took the lead in SS4 on Friday, was the class of the field, as has become norm.
However, it wasn't an easy event for the Frenchman or any of his rivals for that matter as torrential rain, especially on days 1 and 2, made the tight and twisty Irish tests extra challenging. Indeed conditions were so bad organisers had to cancel the two night stages on Friday, due to severe flooding and concerns over safety.
While Seb got off to a bit of a slow start and was only seventh fastest in the first test on Friday, having opted for Pirelli's standard slick tyre, he was back on it in SS2 and SS3, first hauling himself up to second and then cutting the gap to then leader, Urmo Aava, from 22 seconds to just 6.7.
Following the mid-day service in Sligo, the five-time world champion continued to charge in his C4 WRC and now on the winter/snow tyres, he grabbed the lead straight off on the re-run through Glenboy 2.
He then stretched his cushion in SS5 and SS6 to end the first leg with a 44.4 second lead.
Saturday was again difficult, but Loeb further consolidated his advantage and he won all three stages in the morning, to stretch his overall advantage to well over a minute.
While he had a scare in the afternoon and had an off in SS12, costing him 12 seconds, he was back on it in SS13 and SS14, setting another two quickest stage times and like on Friday, he concluded the day having won 5 from 6.
Sunday saw the rain replaced by bright sunshine and a cold wind, but it was still no cruise to the finish and Loeb had another scare in the penultimate stage. He survived that though, and took the victory by almost 1.5 minutes to get the new season off to the perfect start.
Dani Sordo meanwhile secured the runners-up spot in the sister Citroen
Total WRT-run C4 WRC. He moved up into second in SS5 on Friday and after that was never really threatened.
Mikko Hirvonen took the final spot on the podium, unable to challenge for P2 after power steering problems cost him considerable time in SS10 and SS11. The Finn then opted to settle for the 6 points and finished around 40 seconds adrift, although four stages win from five on the final day showed what might have been.