Citroen Total WRT man Sebastien Loeb has strengthened his lead today in the battle for the 2011 WRC drivers' title after taking his second victory of the year on Rally Italia Sardegna.

Loeb took the lead in SS4 on Friday, despite having to play the road sweeper. He then managed to extend his cushion on the repeat loop in the afternoon, when his closest rival, Ford's Mikko Hirvonen, ran wide in SS7 and picked up a puncture.

The Frenchman thus took a 33.2 second advantage into the second leg and while Hirvonen did come back at him and cut the gap to 23.8 seconds, Seb remained in control and despite having to run first on the road throughout, eventually triumphed by 11.2 seconds. The result sees him extend his lead at the top of the Drivers' Championship, increasing it from 2 points to 7.

"This is an incredible win," Loeb said. "We swept the road all weekend, it was very slippery. We were really happy with the car though, it was perfect. Mikko was pushing very hard, it was a great fight. We lost some time in some places, but we gained a bit in some others too."

Meanwhile, Hirvonen did his best to minimise the damage in terms of the Drivers' title race and in addition to taking the runners-up spot, he also took the maximum three points for winning the Power Stage, 1.4 seconds up on Jari-Matti Latvala.

"Second was a strong finish and I'm delighted with the bonus points. I had a good rhythm throughout the [Power] stage," he reflected. "I lost 50 seconds after a mistake in the opening leg and if it hadn't been for that, I think I could have won this rally. I was happy with my speed throughout the weekend and I feel increasingly confident with the Fiesta RS WRC with every event."

Behind, Petter Solberg took the final place on the podium, 11.7 seconds back. It was a welcome result for the Norwegian and the first time he has got on the rostrum in WRC 2011.

"I'm very happy," said Petter. "It has been a good rally and I'm happy with our speed and performance, who knows what could have happened if we hadn't had the turbo thing [on day one]. It's been flat out all weekend and I loved it! The podium is very important for the team and I am feeling stronger than ever."

Sebastien Ogier had to settle for fourth in his Citroen DS3, losing around a minute in SS17 this morning, when he hit a rock and damaged his left rear suspension. Prior to that, the Jordan and Portugal winner had been right in the thick of the battle for a podium.

Mads Ostberg put his recent disappointments behind him to take fifth, albeit a minute further back in his M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta.

"It's very nice," Ostberg noted. "I am quite happy with the rally and with what we have done. We had many small problems which did not always allow to fight, without those we might have been faster but even when we did not have any we were not that close to the others. I am happy to finish, a fifth place is good for us here. We need to build confidence to take the next step as soon as possible."

Dani Sordo gave MINI a very credible result on the team's first event with the all new MINI John Cooper Works WRC car and came home in sixth, posting top-ten times in all the 18 tests, bar one - his best result a fourth quickest time on Friday in SS8.

"I am happy to finish, the car is good and so is the team. I think the weekend was very positive and after many kilometres on the rally we have learnt more about the car, which is important," Sordo said.

"Also the team has taken a lot of data and are now working hard for the future. In the fast parts of the stages we were close to the top times. The positive is the chassis is really good and it is really nice to drive on the fast road. If you have a good chassis this is most important."

Further back, Ott Tanak took seventh and the SWRC class win in a Ford Fiesta S2000, 35.1 seconds up on his closest class rival, Juho Hanninen in P8. Britain's Matthew Wilson and SWRC third place finisher, Martin Prokop completed the top ten, followed by Nasser Al-Attiyah and Armindo Araujo.

A number of runners had problems during the event, most noticeably Jari-Matti Latvala, who went out on Friday, when his co-driver, Miikka Anttila, called a wrong pacenote in SS1. The Finn re-started on Saturday and proceeded to win five of the day's six stages, and took two more stage wins today, but it was all rather academic and he finished 18th. His only consolation was that he took a few manufacturers' points for Ford.

Evgeny Novikov and Federico Villagra also used the SupeRally, like Latvala, and finished 13th and 17th respectively, while Per-Gunnar Andersson was 15th after breaking a steering arm in SS2 on Friday.

As for retirees, M-Sport Stobart Ford's Henning Solberg and MINI's Kris Meeke were the two most notable casualties. Henning went out on day 1, after his car briefly caught fire in SS3 following a heavy impact with a bridge. Meeke also went out in Alta Marmilla 1 after a sticking throttle saw him clip a rock and take a wheel off his car. He did re-start on Saturday, but only managed two more stages before having to pull out.

The WRC now heads to Argentina at the end of this month, with round six running from May 27-29.



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