Sebastien Loeb dominated the Rally RACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada this weekend to take his ninth win of the season - and move closer to securing a record fifth drivers' title, something never before done in the history of the World Rally Championship.

Loeb seized control of the twelfth round in the series right from the word go and he completed the opening test on Friday, the 20.48 kilometre-run through La Mussara, in 11 minutes 17.3 seconds - 1.5 seconds up on his Citroen team-mate, Daniel Sordo.

It was in the next test though that he put in a big charge and extended his advantage to 7.4 seconds. He then just edged out Sordo in SS3 to return to the mid-day halt with a 7.5 second lead.

On the repeat loop in the afternoon Loeb continued in a similar vein, 1.3 seconds up on Sordo in SS4, 3.5 seconds ahead in SS5 and the same amount in front in SS6. He thus took a comfortable 15.8 second cushion into day two, maintaining his clean sweep in the morning, when he was fastest in SS7, SS8 and SS9.

While in the afternoon Mikko Hirvonen and Francois Duval beat him in SS10 and SS12, Loeb still managed to notch up another stage win and with a 27.7 second lead Sunday was pretty much a formality.

Indeed in the end he took the victory by 24.9 seconds, his fourth win on the trot, after also triumphing in Finland, Germany and New Zealand - and also his fourth win in succession in Spain, having won in 2007, 2006 and 2005 too.

Loeb now enjoys a 12-point lead over Mikko Hirvonen in the race for the 2008 drivers' title - and could clinch the honours on the Tour de Corse, his home event, next weekend.

"The win in this rally means we have achieved a total of 45 victories. Not bad! I am very happy to have got it because it is a huge step in the struggle for the drivers' title," said the Frenchman. "The rally went perfectly for us."

Dani Sordo meanwhile took the runners-up spot and like Loeb he put in an impressive performance. The Spaniard was the only runner anywhere near Loeb at times and he played the perfect support role en-route to taking P2 in front of his home supporters.

The result - in combination with Loeb's win, also saw Citroen increase its margin over Ford in the manufacturers' championship, up from 20 points to 27, with a maximum 54 points still up for grabs.

"It is a pity I could not get the victory at home," said Dani, "but we were as fast as we could be throughout the rally. We needed a little more time than Sebastien to adapt to the Pirelli tyres. I hope I'll be able to get closer in Corsica."

BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Mikko Hirvonen completed the podium, but only after his team-mate Francois Duval was instructed to let the Finn in front.

Duval duly obeyed in the penultimate test and the extra point he gave to Mikko could yet prove crucial as the Finn tries to stop Loeb from taking this year's drivers' crown.

Hirvonen, who was unable really to keep up with Duval, ended it on something of a flourish though by setting the pace in the final three stages. By then however, he was never going to get P3 on merit.

"This wasn't how I wanted to take a podium and I really have to thank Francois. He was a true team player and helped me to score an extra point. Winning the drivers' championship will be very difficult now but it isn't out of the question so I will keep trying," Mikko vowed.

Duval, who was competing under the BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT banner for the first time, was disappointed to have to give up his place on the rostrum. He was however pleased with his form - and he was happy to be back with the Blue Oval's 'A' team for the first time since 2004.

"It was a good weekend and I'm happy to be back in the Ford team," he confirmed. "I made no mistakes and suffered no punctures and this has given me real confidence for next weekend's rally in Corsica."

Subaru's Petter Solberg hung onto take fifth, albeit more than two minutes off the Fords, who were themselves a minute or so off Loeb's Citroen.

Petter was engaged in a close fight with the privately entered C4 of Urmo Aava on day 3 and in SS16 the Norwegian slipped behind. However in the penultimate test Aava got it wrong and crashed, breaking his car's suspension. Although he limped through the remainder of SS17 and SS18, he was unable to make it back to service and retired on the road section.

Aava's woes not only ensured 'Hollywood' took fifth, but it also left Jari-Matti Latvala and Chris Atkinson fighting for sixth, as opposed to seventh, with the former eventually coming through to take P6 in his Stobart Ford Focus by just 1.1 seconds.

Further down the order Andreas Mikkelsen rounded out the points' scorers in his Ramsport-run Focus while ninth was Matthew Wilson, who took the final manufacturers' point in the #7 Stobart Ford Focus.

Subaru 'third' driver Brice Tirabassi completed the top ten, followed by the Munchi's Ford entries of Henning Solberg and Federico Villagra and then Suzuki's Toni Gardemeister, Mads Ostberg and Eamonn Boland.

In the Junior World Rally Championship category, Martin Prokop was handed the victory on a plate after Sebastien Ogier damaged his car in the final stage on Saturday and threw away a commanding lead. Ogier was unable to re-start under the SupeRally after the radiator was damaged on his C2 S1600.

Prokop thus took the class win, pacing himself through the final day and despite a few engine worries, beat Alessandro Bettega's Renault Clio by 24.6 seconds.

Aaron Burkart took third and now lies just 4 points behind Ogier in the battle for the J-WRC title. Ogier and Burkart are now the only two in contention for the Junior crown with just the event in Corsica left.

Shaun Gallagher and Patrik Sandell were fourth and fifth, with Jaan Molder sixth, followed by Stefano Albertini and Simone Bertolotti.

In terms of retirements other than Ogier and Aava - both already mentioned - there were no 'big' casualties, although it is worth noting Conrad Rautenbach went out on the final day, as did Britain's Kris Meeke, who was running just inside a J-WRC points' position.

Per-Gunnar Andersson and Khalid Al Qassimi both finished, but only after re-starting under the SupeRally on Saturday. P-G was classified in 32nd place, while Al Qassimi was 21st.

The WRC now crosses the Mediterranean to Corsica for next weekend's Rallye de France-Tour de Corse. The final all-asphalt event of the season, and round 13 of the 15-rally championship, is based in Ajaccio and it runs from October 9-12.



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