Reigning world champion, Sebastien Loeb has won the Cyprus Rally, the Frenchman leading from practically the off, winning 12 of the 16 stages ran competitively, to take the victory by over 4 minutes.

The Citroen ace never looked troubled throughout the three-day event, and while his rivals all had various issues, Loeb calmly and quickly set about building an unassailable lead on day one, before continuing to romp off into the distance yesterday and today.

The win means that he now leads the race for the 2005 drivers' championship by 11 points, after his main rivals for the title - Petter Solberg and Marcus Gronholm retired on day one.

"This is the moment we've been waiting for these past two days," said Loeb at the finish. "It's a bit of a strange win and I feel a certain relief that it's over. The car was perfect and didn't give us any problems, and we didn't make any mistakes. This win may not have been all that exciting but, like all the others, it's worth ten valuable points!"

Manfred Stohl meanwhile secured the runners-up spot, a fantastic achievement for the Austrian, who was in a semi-privateer Xsara. Like Loeb, he enjoyed a trouble-free event and made the most of it to put many of the 'works' drivers to shame. It is his best result to date and the first time a privately run car has finished on the podium in five years.

"It's a fantastic feeling. To finish second in such a difficult rally... it's just incredible! I'm not one to show my feelings, but I'm thrilled to bits inside! I am pleased that I succeeded in holding off Henning Solberg and then Markko Martin," he noted. "I also want to underline the excellent work put in by the Kronos team. This is a great result for all those who believed in me at the beginning of my career and who enabled me to make a living out of my passion."

Markko Martin completed the podium, the Estonian eventually getting in front of Henning Solberg on SS15, when the Finn lost 17 seconds or so when the engine on his Focus kept cutting out. Although Henning tried to fight back on the final loop, Martin was having none it and he promptly won SS17 and finished 30 seconds ahead.

"I knew that if I wanted to be on the podium I had to push hard today," explained Martin. "It was quite difficult, because I did not want to take any risks with the manufacturer points I already had in the bag for Peugeot. Luckily we were able to do it, after what has been a very difficult rally for us."

Toni Gardmeister took fifth, one place ahead of his team-mate, Roman Kresta, handing Ford its 50th consecutive points-scoring finish.

"This is a quite remarkable feat. No other manufacturer has come close to this record. It's a tribute to the nine drivers who have contributed to this run and the whole M-Sport team, which has worked so hard over the past seasons," said team boss, Malcolm Wilson. "But most of all, it's a success for the Ford Focus which has displayed its speed and strength throughout the 50 rallies. Now our sights are firmly set on extending the record even further."

Mitsubishi driver, Harri Rovanpera and Daniel Carlsson completed the top eight, the latter demoting Skoda's Janne Tuohino to ninth in the penultimate test after the Finn had to switch to 'safe mode' on his Fabia, after it began to overheat.

Of the rest, Gilles Panizzi was eleventh overall, one place up on Brice Tirabassi, who won the Production Car WRC category. Tirabassi, like Loeb, was dominant, the Frenchman 4 minutes up on his nearest class rival, Sebastian Beltran, who was 14th overall, one place behind, the final works driver to finish, Armin Schwarz.

The list of retirees featured three big scalps - namely those of Gronholm, Solberg and Francois Duval.

Gronholm was the first out on SS1, when his cam belt failed on his Peugeot, while Solberg failed to re-start on Saturday, due to concerns about the engine on his Impreza. Duval meanwhile went out in spectacular fashion when he went off the road in SS11 yesterday, and hit a tree. His future now looks uncertain as his co-driver, Stephane Prevot has told Citroen boss, Guy Frequelin he now longer want to work alongside the Belgian.

The FIA World Rally Championship now moves onto Turkey in three weeks time.

Temperatures in Turkey are expected to be as hot as those in Cyprus, but as the average speeds of the rally are higher there will be more airflow through the cars. Turkey is another famed car-breaker and components have to be at their strongest to survive the three-day pounding from rocky roads and choking dust. Service will once again be based in the coastal resort of Kemer, while the event's 18 stages will run in the Anatolian mountains.

The event will conclude on Sunday June 5.


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