Sebastien Loeb has led Citroen to a stunning 1-2 result in the Rally New Zealand after Ford ran into an astonishing series of problems on a thrilling final day of competition.

Victory was almost certainly set to go the way of Ford and Mikko Hirvonen when the Finn established a comfortable lead with only two stages and 32kms remaining, but a cruel puncture on the second run through Whaanga Coast robbed him of any chance to resist both Loeb and his team-mate Dani Sordo.

Also damaging his car following an ensuing spin, Hirvonen's eventual third place was, remarkably, the high point on a day that Ford are unlikely to forget for many years to come.

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Heading into the Whaanga Coast stage for the second time today, there was quiet apprehension that the ruts created on the first loop could cause some problems, particularly with the top four drivers unable to back off as they continued to dispute the lead. However, with several PWRC runners hitting problems there earlier in the day, the warnings should have been apparent that this stage was going to be considerably more treacherous than it was just a few hours earlier.

Nonetheless, confidence was high after Hirvonen had pulled out a good margin over team-mate Latvala heading into the stage, while Sordo and Loeb were now at arms length and looking set to settle for third and fourth.

However, their fortunes changed rapidly when reports came through that Latvala had stopped on the stage. The Finn had damaged the underside of his Focus when he cut the inside of a corner too readily and struck a rock. Despite his attempts to continue, Latvala was forced to park up and ponder his third straight retirement.

The spotlight was soon shifted away from him though when Hirvonen began pumping in unusually slow split times. It soon became apparent that Hirvonen, who was now first on the road, had picked up a puncture and was struggling to keep his Ford moving. Spinning off as he attempted to extract as much out of the floundering car as possible, the drama has robbed him of a much-needed and well deserved victory in a very cruel way.

Just to compound Ford's misery, moments later word came through that Francois Duval had also stopped on the stage. The Belgian had been lauded with praise throughout the weekend for his quiet and consistent run to fifth, but found a fine result going wanting as he joined Latvala - the driver he replaces in the factory team for the next two rounds - in propping up the retirement's list

Their despair, however, provided unbridled joy for Citroen, who inherited an easy-looking 1-2 as a result. Probably one the most eventful days in Loeb's career, the Frenchman entered the penultimate stage down in fourth place after an earlier spin had seemingly deemed him out of the running for victory.

However, with a time some14.7secs quicker than anybody else through Whaanga (a mighty feat forgotten in the midst of Ford's implosion), Loeb leapt up into first place with just one stage remaining. Keeping his cool over the 3.14km Super Special Stage, Loeb wound up a 17.5secs winner from Sordo, who was thrilled with second place, not least because it goes a long way to push Citroen towards the team title this year.

A devastated Hirvonen clung onto third place to at least keep Loeb honest in the title fight, although he is now eight points behind with four rallies - two Tarmac, two gravel - remaining.

The demise of Latvala and Duval from the timesheets served to shake-up the order further back too, with Petter Solberg ending the day three places higher than he had started it in fourth.

Marking a surprisingly good result for the Subaru team after a troubled rally that had Solberg feeling frustrated with his Impreza for much of the weekend, while Subaru won't appreciate the three minute gap to the leaders, they won't dismiss five valuable points either.

After losing sixth to Solberg on the first stage after a spin, Urmo Aava had looked likely to settle for seventh but was instead able to celebrate one of his best results in the WRC with fifth place. Classified as the best privateer entry too, the result will do Aava's hopes of a fuller campaign in 2009 no harm whatsoever.

Rally New Zealand 2008 will go down in the Suzuki history books as the first time they got both of their cars inside the points as Per-Gunnar Andersson and Toni Gardemeister avoided any drama for once to hold onto sixth and seventh places.

A largely trouble-free rally for the still developing SX4, Andersson had to overcome a puncture on that stage but maintained a big enough gap back to his team-mate to record both his and team's best result yet. Furthermore, as the manufacturer takes home five well deserved points, the event has also shown Suzuki to be capable of producing decent stage times now. A corner has undoubtedly been turned.

Although they finish alongside each other on the timesheets, Federico Villagra will be the only Munchi's Ford driver to come away with a point next to his name after a quiet, but typically solid event for the Argentine. He will also take pleasure in the fact he is the second classified Ford in the final order.

Still, while he is no less deserving of that point than many drivers, it must be said that ninth place for Henning Solberg is a frustrating outcome after a tremendous performance in his Focus saw him climb up from 45th at the end of the opening leg. Losing huge amounts of time with power steering woes on the first loop of stages, Solberg mounted an outstanding comeback to win seven of the 18 stages to very nearly overhaul his team-mate for a hard fought single point. Still, while it wasn't to be, Solberg's performance was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the rally.

Of the remaining WRC runners, Chris Atkinson diced with the leaders in the early stages before rolling his Subaru out of contention. He rejoined on the second leg, but would crash out again on the final day to bring a dismal weekend to a dismal close.

Like Solberg, Matthew Wilson's name spent more time than usual in the upper half of the stage time classification, but his hopes of a good result ended during day one when he was forced to retire with a gearbox problem.

The WRC brigade heads back to Europe for the next two Tarmac rounds of the championship in Spain and Corsica. With Loeb expected to maintain his marvellous form on asphalt, Hirvonen is now up against it to wrestle another title off the Frenchman.

However, with Ford gaining the services of Francois Duval - arguably Loeb's closest rival on the sealed surface -, Spain promises to be eventful. Still, it will certainly need to go a long way to proving as eventful as the Rally New Zealand has been this year...