Sebastien Loeb bounced back on the Rally d'Italia Sardegna this weekend, the sixth round in the 2008 World Rally Championship, and notched up his fourth win of the year and the 40th of his career.

Loeb grabbed the lead on the second stage on Friday and then proceeded to build a 22.5 second lead, with two quickest times in succession in Crastazza 1 and Terranova 1. The Frenchman then pulled further ahead on the repeat loop and finished day one with a 35.7 second cushion.

Saturday however, was a far tougher day for the four-time world champion and while he still managed to increase his overnight lead in the morning - up to 42 seconds heading into the mid-day halt - he was struggling running first on the road and having to sweep away the loose gravel.

In the afternoon he was again off the pace and with BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT duo Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen on a charge, Seb saw his lead cut to 29.4 seconds.

The final day was a similar situation and Loeb was 10 seconds off the pace in SS13 and finished the opening stage of the day with his lead down to 19.1 seconds. The Citroen #1 responded in SS14 though, and then held on through the repeat loop and the short super special to take the victory by 10.6 seconds.

The result took his total number of WRC wins to 40 and moves him within 3 points of re-taking top spot in the race for the 2008 drivers' title.

"Our 40th WRC win was certainly hard work," he reflected. "The weekend was very frustrating at times, especially because of all the 'road sweeping' that had to be done, but we managed to hold on to a big enough lead to finish on top.

"Not to have won would have been a huge disappointment, so I'm very happy. The weekend showed once again that our car is competitive over this sort of terrain, and that's encouraging for the coming rounds."

Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile had to settle for the runners-up spot, backing off in the second stage on Sunday after a minor scare. Second was enough though to ensure he retains the lead in the drivers' championship.

"The first stage this morning was great but I went off the road briefly on the next about 1km after the start. I hit a rock and didn't know what damage I had done so I knew I had to ease off slightly," he confirmed.

"At one point I was worried I wouldn't make the finish. This afternoon I started to go flat out to try to take time from Loeb, but I realised it wasn't going to happen so I decided not to take any more risks. I needed more speed on Friday but apart from that, this was a good rally."

Jari-Matti Latvala took the final spot on the podium in the sister car and eventually finished just 4.7 seconds off his team-mate. It was a good performance from the 23-year-old, especially after he had lost around 1.5 minutes on day 1, when he hit a bank and picked up a puncture - dropping him to 14th. He put in a big push on day two and in the end won 10 of the 17 tests.

"It's been an eventful rally," he noted. "On Friday I would have been happy to finish in the top five, so third is fantastic and gives me a big confidence boost. If I hadn't made the mistake [in SS2], who knows what the outcome might have been. Yesterday was amazing and I literally pushed my hardest all day.

"I said at the start of the week a podium was what I was aiming for, and I've achieved that - the job is done."

Stobart Ford's Gigi Galli was next up on his home event - although like Jari an error in SS2 put him on the back-foot. He too fought back however, setting nine top-three stages times, including winning SS4, to take his 15th WRC career stage win.

"It's been a good finish to my home event. I was a bit disappointed on the first day after the puncture but [team boss] Malcolm Wilson told me that I could still be fourth and he was right," noted the Italian.

"It was important for me to finish well here and do a good job in front of my fans and my sponsors."

Further down the order Citroen's Dani Sordo came in fifth having slipped back on day two, when he was second on the road, while Chris Atkinson trailed the Spaniard home in sixth, albeit over 3 minutes further adrift. Atkinson and Subaru had a dismal event and Chris only set two top five times.

"OK, it's good to get more points and to still be third in the championship, but it's definitely not been an easy weekend. I drove the best I could and made no mistakes, and that's it," said the Aussie.

Munchi's 'guest' driver Henning Solberg and Urmo Aava rounded out the points scorers in seventh and eighth respectively, and while just 5.5 seconds separated the two going into day 3, in the end the latter was unable to keep up and eventually finished 20 seconds behind.

Per-Gunnar Andersson took the final manufacturers' point in ninth for Suzuki and was delighted to get his SX4 WRC to the end, something he had only managed twice so far this season - and one of those 'finishes' was under the SupeRally.

"It's been a very tough rally for us but a good one: the car has been perfect from start to finish and I have been very happy with it. We've had no major problems and I hope now that we have got a good basis to work from for the future," said the Swede.

Petter Solberg completed the top ten and the Norwegian was bitterly disappointed - especially as things had looked good at the end of day one when he finished the leg in third. 'Hollywood' slipped back immediately on Saturday however, struggling with the tyres in SS7 and then picked up a puncture in SS8, which he had to stop and change it, losing him 5 minutes.

"It's been very, very hard," said Petter on Saturday. "We tried but we just didn't have the pace. We started with a good third position from Friday, and we knew day two would be tough, but even without stopping to change the wheel in stage eight, we just couldn't keep up."

Of the rest Mads Ostberg came in eleventh with Britain's Matthew Wilson twelfth followed by Conrad Rautenbach, Federico Villagra, Michal Kosciuszko and Khalid Al Qassimi, who went out on day 1, but re-joined on Saturday under the SupeRally.

Amongst those World Rally Car drivers was Suzuki Swift S1600 pilot Michal Kosciuszko and he took the Junior World Rally Championship honours. Kosciuszko was engaged in a fierce fight with Martin Prokop for much of the event, but that battle ended in SS16, when the Czech had an engine problem, which dropped him down to 10th.

Alessandro Bettega thus inherited the runners-up spot, over 4 minutes off P1, while Aaron Burkart completed the JWRC podium, followed by Shaun Gallagher and current Junior championship leader, Sebastien Ogier. Ogier had to retire on day one, but came back to take four points for P5.

Stefano Albertini, Patrik Sandell and Hans Weijs Jr completed the JWRC points' scorers in sixth, seventh and eighth respectively.

In terms of retirees the biggest casualty was Suzuki's Toni Gardemeister, who retired on both day two and day three. On Saturday he had a suspension problem, while an electrical glitch stopped him post-SS14.

A number of other drivers' also failed to get to the end, including Andreas Mikkelsen, who rolled his Ramsport-run Focus in SS2, as well as four JWRC runners - namely Florian Niegel, Milos Komljenovic, Simone Bertolotti and Kevin Abbring.

The World Rally Championship now remains in the Mediterranean and heads to Greece in less than two weeks time. The all-gravel Acropolis Rally is based in Athens and runs from May 29 to June 1.