Sebastien Loeb took the laurels on the Wales Rally GB this weekend following a dramatic final day scrap with Jari-Matti Latvala.

Loeb had been second pretty much throughout the three-day event, which took place in treacherous conditions in the forests of mid and south Wales. Ice and snow forced organisers to cancel much of Friday's opening leg and wintery conditions continued to provide a stern challenge on day's 2 and 3.

Going into Sunday's action, Loeb was 7.3 seconds off P1, but two quickest times in succession on the first loop allowed him to cut that margin to just 1.4 seconds.

He then seemingly did enough to take the lead in SS18, when he was again quickest. However a time penalty for supposedly jumping the start - something he fiercely denied - meant he actually went into SS19 2.4 seconds back.

Loeb however, charged through Port Talbot 2 and in the end won the event by 2.7 seconds, later actually confirmed to be 12.7 seconds, when organisers announced that his earlier penalty had been rescinded.

It was the first time Seb has ever won in GB - and also the first time the event has been won by a Frenchman. Loeb has now won every single WRC event on the modern calendar, with the exception of the Jordan Rally, which only joined the schedule for the first time this season.

"It has always been in the back of my mind that I haven't won this rally. This is the perfect end to my year - and a great relief," said Loeb, who of course clinched the 2008 drivers' title - his fifth in succession - in Japan last month.

"It has been a good journey and a really good way to end the season like this. It is incredible and really good for the rally to have such a close fight with Jari-Matti Latvala."

Loeb's victory in Wales was his eleventh of the year - and that means he has set yet another new record, this time for the highest number of wins in a single season in the WRC.

Loeb and Citroen meanwhile had yet another reason to celebrate at the finish, as the French marque not only had two cars on the podium, with Dani Sordo third behind Latvala, but the 1-3 result was more than ample to ensure the squad took the manufacturers' crown.

"After making sure of our fifth title in Japan, Daniel [Elena] and I are really happy to have enabled Citroen to take the Manufacturers world crown again, too," Seb added. "There couldn't be a better reward for this team and the fantastic season it has put in."

Sordo was also pleased and while he was around minute off the top two by the end, he took it very cautiously on day three so that Loeb could push without worrying about the manufacturers' race.

"That was a great performance by the team. We have got the Championship and I am so happy. That is all that matters," said the Spaniard.

While it was joy at Citroen, the atmosphere wasn't quite the same in the Ford camp and Latvala was understandably upset to miss out on the victory, especially as he had led for so long.

However the Finn was still pleased with his form and is confident he can go for the title in 2009: "I couldn't have driven that final stage any quicker. I told myself I would be either first or second, and not waiting in the forest for a trailer to come and collect the wreckage. I'm disappointed but this is my best finish in Britain and the battle has made me mentally stronger," he explained.

Further down the order, Petter Solberg came in fourth for Subaru, 39 seconds off the final place on the rostrum. 'Hollywood' blamed the icy conditions for his inability to challenge for a podium place.

"We just had to settle for fourth as we just didn't have the grip to push on the ice. We knew yesterday that if there was ice this morning, we would not have a chance, but if it was normal gravel or mud, it would have been ok because that's where we have improved the car since Japan," he reflected.

Next up was Per-Gunnar Andersson, who equalled his - and Suzuki's - best ever result with the SX4 WRC by bringing his car home in fifth.

Francois Duval also had a positive event and considering the off he had in Japan - which hospitalised his regular co-driver, Patrick Pivato - sixth place was a very solid result.

"We found this rally very hard and it was difficult to really get into a rhythm," he admitted. "We had a few spins on the first day and after the accident in Japan I didn't have confidence to be fully committed in the fast sections. The important thing for me here though was to get to the end of the rally with no problems and pick up points for the team."

Toni Gardmeister and Mikko Hirvonen completed top eight, the latter getting a point despite his big roll on day 1 in SS5 - which dropped him down to 44th position. Eighth also meant Mikko maintained his run of having scored points in every single event this season, something never before achieved in the history of the WRC.

Of the rest, Matthew Wilson had to settle for ninth - 2.5 minutes off eighth, while Barry Clark was tenth followed by Patrik Flodin and MotoGP superstar, Valentino Rossi.

Flodin incidentally took the honours in the Production Car World Rally Championship category, over a minute up on Andreas Aigner, who was second. Aigner was delighted with P2 as it meant he secure the P-WRC crown, edging out Juho Hanninen by two points.

Hanninen had led the P-WRC standings pre-Wales, but retired with engine problems on day 1 in SS6.

Guy Wilks rounded out the P-WRC top-three, the Englishman having led early on until technical problems slowed him on day 2. He was still very happy however, as his focus was more on the BRC - Wales Rally GB counts as two rounds for the British championship - and his efforts were enough to ensure he retained his title.

In terms of retirements a number of drivers' had problems and went out, most noticeably Chris Atkinson, who crashed out in SS7 on Friday, as well as Mads Ostberg and Henning Solberg. Henning had been battling for fifth, but damaged his suspension in the penultimate test.

Sebastian Ogier also deserves a mention, and while he did roll out on Saturday in SS9, he was the star of the event on Friday. Indeed he led until SS6 and won the first test of the event and all on his debut in a World Rally Car. The newly crowned Junior champion was eventually classified in 26th, having re-started on Sunday under the SupeRally.

Other retirees included 15 P-WRC runners - only 10 finished - amongst them, in addition to Hanninen, Martin Prokop, Fumio Nutahara, Nasser Al-Attiyah and 'wild card' Mark Higgins, who had been in contention to win the BRC crown.

The World Rally Championship now takes a short break, before the 2009 season kicks off with the Rally Ireland at the end of next month.



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