Citroen number one driver Sebastien Loeb took his third win in a row with victory on Rally New Zealand today, a result that puts him in a commanding position in the drivers' championship as the 2012 World Rally Championship passes the halfway marker.
Loeb trailed his team-mate Mikko Hirvonen on the opening day and it wasn't until the very final test on Friday that he moved in front, finishing the leg with a slender 4 second cushion.
On Saturday the duel between the two Citroen factory drivers continued and following the morning loop, Hirvonen had closed to within 1.7 seconds of the lead. However in the afternoon, Loeb struck back and ended the day 6.4 seconds ahead. At this point, with Petter Solberg a distant third, Citroen boss Yves Matton instructed both of his drivers' to hold position, and on the final day, they duly brought their DS3 WRC cars home, giving the French team another one-two.
Loeb now heads into the WRC's summer break with a 38-point lead over Hirvonen in the race for the 2012 drivers' title, while Citroen is 93 points up on Ford in the manufacturers' standings.
“It's a great victory! It was a long weekend with some very difficult conditions. The big, big fight with Mikko was not easy, but we are here now at the end of the rally,” Loeb said.
“This season is going very well. Again we do first and second here and that shows that the car is really strong and that it is good for the championship. The team is doing a perfect job and that is one of the keys of our success. I have a good feeling for the rest of the season.”
Hirvonen meanwhile, who was looking very good to win on Friday, was pleased to be back on the pace after struggling last time out on the Acropolis.
“It was a fantastic weekend; we had such a great fight for the first two days. It was really important to get the speed back again because in Greece I wasn't happy with my driving so now it is good again and right before Finland which is brilliant,” he confirmed.
Behind, Petter Solberg took the final place on the podium for Ford, although he was a long way back – more than 90 seconds off Loeb – after selecting the wrong tyres on Friday morning. That cost the Norwegian dear leaving him down in seventh after SS4. Although he managed to haul himself back up the leaderboard, he was unable to do anything about the two Citroens ahead.