Citroen Total WRT man Sebastien Loeb
has strengthened his lead today in the battle for the 2011 WRC drivers' title after taking his second victory of the year on Rally Italia Sardegna.
Loeb took the lead in SS4 on Friday, despite having to play the road sweeper. He then managed to extend his cushion on the repeat loop in the afternoon, when his closest rival, Ford's Mikko Hirvonen, ran wide in SS7 and picked up a puncture.
The Frenchman thus took a 33.2 second advantage into the second leg and while Hirvonen did come back at him and cut the gap to 23.8 seconds, Seb remained in control and despite having to run first on the road throughout, eventually triumphed by 11.2 seconds. The result sees him extend his lead at the top of the Drivers' Championship, increasing it from 2 points to 7.
"This is an incredible win," Loeb said. "We swept the road all weekend, it was very slippery. We were really happy with the car though, it was perfect. Mikko was pushing very hard, it was a great fight. We lost some time in some places, but we gained a bit in some others too."
Meanwhile, Hirvonen did his best to minimise the damage in terms of the Drivers' title race and in addition to taking the runners-up spot, he also took the maximum three points for winning the Power Stage, 1.4 seconds up on Jari-Matti Latvala.
"Second was a strong finish and I'm delighted with the bonus points. I had a good rhythm throughout the [Power] stage," he reflected. "I lost 50 seconds after a mistake in the opening leg and if it hadn't been for that, I think I could have won this rally. I was happy with my speed throughout the weekend and I feel increasingly confident with the Fiesta RS WRC with every event."
Behind, Petter Solberg
took the final place on the podium, 11.7 seconds back. It was a welcome result for the Norwegian and the first time he has got on the rostrum in WRC 2011.
"I'm very happy," said Petter. "It has been a good rally and I'm happy with our speed and performance, who knows what could have happened if we hadn't had the turbo thing [on day one]. It's been flat out all weekend and I loved it! The podium is very important for the team and I am feeling stronger than ever."
Sebastien Ogier had to settle for fourth in his Citroen
DS3, losing around a minute in SS17 this morning, when he hit a rock and damaged his left rear suspension. Prior to that, the Jordan and Portugal winner had been right in the thick of the battle for a podium.