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.