Citroen driver Sebastien Loeb won Rally Finland today as he edges ever closer to his ninth WRC drivers' title.
Loeb said he wasn't necessarily going to go for victory on the eighth round in the 2012 World Rally Championship, but he immediately laid down the marker on Wednesday, by setting the quickest time in qualifying.
He then took the lead in the very first stage, finishing the short opening leg with a 7.3 second cushion.
On Friday, Loeb maintained his position at the head of the pack, despite the ever constant threat from team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen. Loeb saw his advantage cut to 4.4 seconds after SS5 and while Mikko did get it down to 3 seconds after SS11, that was a close as he would ever get.
Indeed Loeb began the final day with a 5-second buffer and he pushed from the off, increasing his margin to 9.4 seconds ahead of the last loop and eventually taking the win, his third in Finland, by just over 6 seconds.
Seb now heads to Germany later this month with his margin over Hirvonen in the drivers' championship up to 43 points, while Citroen has further strengthened its hold on the manufacturers', with its fourth 1-2 in a row increasing the gap over Ford from 93 points to 109 points.
“It is always special to win in Finland. It is an incredible rally,” Loeb said. “I am very satisfied. I didn't come especially to win. I know it is difficult to take victory here – and it was difficult. I had a great fight with Mikko.”
Hirvonen meanwhile had to be content with second again, and while he never quite got on terms with his team-mate, he certainly made him work for the victory. Mikko also had the pleasure of winning the Power Stage and setting a new record for the best time through the legendary Ouninpohja test.
“It is silver again. It was an excellent performance from me, but it just isn't enough against Loeb. He's a tough guy,” Hirvonen stated.
Behind, Jari-Matti Latvala completed the podium, although the Ford man was disappointed not to be able to challenge the Citroens, eventually finishing 28.9 seconds off P2 and 35 seconds off Loeb: “I was hoping for more, but we just couldn't get more,” Latvala said. “At beginning I wasn't at my best, but in the end we weren't quick enough.”
Petter Solberg was also unable to challenge in the other works Ford Fiesta RS WRC car and he was fourth, 21.1 seconds further adrift.