Citroen team leader, Sebastien Loeb has won the Rally Italia Sardinia today [Sunday], taking the victory by 59.6 seconds.

The Frenchman dominated the event, and led ever since Marcus Gronholm rolled in SS3.

It's his third win of the season and his second on the trot following his win in NZ at the start of last month. It also puts him in the lead in the drivers' championship.

Related Articles

"I was careful not to make any mistakes today," said Loeb, "while keeping a close eye on the times of my closest chaser, Petter Solberg. Winning back to back in New Zealand and here in Sardinia has put us back in the lead of the championship and promises some exciting battles to come!"

Petter Solberg took the runners-up spot, best of the rest, but in truth the Norwegian never looked likely to challenge Loeb. However having started first on the road on Friday, the Subaru ace was somewhat handicapped.

"In the circumstances it's good to take second place," said 'Hollywood'. "It's been a good fight with Sebastien, but of course I'd hoped it would be a lot closer. But, it didn't happen like that and so I've got the best result I could. The key thing we have to do is work harder to find some more performance, but we have a good plan and I'm 100 per cent confident that we will succeed."

Gronholm took the final spot on the podium - after putting in a fantastic recovery drive after falling to 22nd overall on day one, when he went off the road. He finished over a minute ahead of his Peugeot team-mate, Markko Martin, who came home fourth.

"It's been a tough rally - maybe the toughest of the year - but the car has once more been perfectly reliable which is very encouraging," said the Finn. "Now I would like to find a bit more speed."

Peugeot'' 3-4 finish ensured the French manufacturer remains top in the constructors' championship, 11 points ahead of Citroen.

Ford's Toni Gardemeister finished fifth, after having had a new oil pump fitted to his Focus overnight, while Roman Kresta was next up in the second registered car to ensure the 'Blue-oval' extended its points-scoring record to 49 consecutive events.

"I can't believe it," said Kresta. "It was vital for both me and the team to finish this rally. Just being here at the end was my primary target. I've driven very, very carefully and it paid off. Not only did I finish, but I finished in the points and took my best result."

Antony Warmbold took the 'privateer' win in his Focus, seventh overall, while Juuso Pykalisto and Manfred Stohl came in eighth and ninth, with Mark Higgins tenth, after losing time when his semi-automatic gearbox failed in SS15.

Of the rest, 'works' drivers, Francois Duval and Stephane Sarrazin were eleventh and twelfth respectively, ahead of Janne Tuohino - 13th for Skoda - and Chris Atkinson, 18th for Subaru. All four drivers benefited from the SupeRally format to re-join and complete the event.

Both Mitsubishi's drivers retired in the final leg - Gigi Galli going out on SS12, when his gearbox failed, while Harri Rovanpera retired after SS13, after going off the road on the last corner and damaging the front-right suspension on the Lancer. He had been in the midst of battling with Gronholm for third.

"We hit a rock and broke one of the front right suspension components," explained Harri. "We didn't have a spare in the car and tried to fix it using tools and clips, but we only managed to get another three or four kilometers before it broke again. Okay, it's disappointing but we agreed we would go for it today and these things can happen; it's better to be fighting for the podium position. We proved we can push in these conditions and that both cars, with a clean run, can be very competitive."

Armin Schwarz meanwhile was excluded this morning, after stewards judged he had received illegal outside assistance during the second day.

In the Junior WRC Daniel Sordo gave the Citroen C2 the class win on its gravel debut, over 3 minutes up on Urmo Aava, who took second for Suzuki. Kris Meeke was third in the sister C2, while Luca Betti, Per-Gunnar Andersson and Guy Wilks rounded out the top six.

The Group N win went to Jari-Matti Latvala, who was 16th overall at the finish - and over 30 minutes up on his nearest class rival.

The WRC now moves to the holiday island of Cyprus in two weeks time. Cyprus is the slowest and hottest rally of the World Championship, making it a true endurance test for drivers and cars. The air temperature can regularly exceed 30?C during the three-day event, putting the emphasis on stamina and physical fitness.

The rally's 18 tests take place high up in the picturesque Troodos mountains, which offer a calm and rustic contrast to the bustling tourist resorts along the coast. At 38.32km, the longest stage will be the Lagoudera - Spilia stage used as SS1 and SS4, while, at 7.57km, the shortest will be the Asinou - Agios Theodoros stage used as SS3 and SS6.