France - day 3: Home win puts Loeb on verge.

The final day though was not without controversy and Mikko Hirvonen, who had been second pretty much throughout, slipped to fifth in the first test on Sunday, when he picked up a puncture.

With Petter Solberg also hitting problems in the next test though, Mikko gained a place and that left the way clear for the 'Blue Oval' to play with the final order and team boss Malcolm Wilson subsequently instructed both Duval and Jari-Matti Latvala to let Hirvonen by.

Prior to the final test, the 26.32 kilometre Pietra Rossa-Verghia stage, Duval checked into the time control early and picked up a two minute penalty, while Latvala also purposely picked up a penalty by arriving at SS16 nine minutes late. Mikko thus moved up from fourth to second and scores 8 points, as opposed to the 5 he would have got for fourth.

"It's not the way you want to get to the podium," Mikko admitted, "But in the end I understand the team's point. They want to keep the Championship alive. This is the way they want to play it, so I accept it."

Duval and Latvala both echoed that view: "My role was to help the team and so it made perfect sense for me to help Mikko here," Francois continued. "This was a tough rally and I've had to work hard for third, but that's how I like it."

"This is a fantastic result for me here and definitely my best ever on tarmac; I could have been on the podium, but the important thing is to keep Ford in with a chance of becoming champions again," Jari-Matti added. "I have had two great results in two weeks - and no-one can take that away from me."

Further down the order Petter Solberg completed the top five for Subaru - although he also lost time with a puncture on the final day, two in fact, one in SS14 and one in the final stage, which left him just 35 seconds up on his team-mate Chris Atkinson.

Atkinson had been right up with Petter and Latvala and battling for fourth until a puncture on day 2 left him out of contention.

Urmo Aava was seventh, despite problems prior to SS2, which saw him get a 1 minute penalty and drop him from 8th to 17th.

Britain's Matthew Wilson took the final drivers' point and like Aava he had to fight his way back after issues on day 1, including an off in SS3.

Of the rest Mads Ostberg and Barry Clark came ninth and tenth respectively, followed by Andreas Mikkelsen, Khalid Al-Qassimi and Toni Gardemeister - the latter picking up the final manufacturers' point for Suzuki on the anniversary of the SX4 WRC's first outing in the WRC.

Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Podium, Sebastien Loeb (FRA) Daniel Elena (MON), Citroen C4, Citroen Total World Rally Team
Podium, Sebastien Loeb (FRA) Daniel Elena (MON), Citroen C4, Citroen Total World Rally Team
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