World Rally News

Loeb Takes Dominant Portugal Win – But Controversy Follows!


Sebastien Loeb has reduced Marcus Gronholm's championship lead to just two points by winning the Vodafone Rally of Portugal.

The Citroen driver was nearly 50 seconds ahead going into Sunday's final loop of stages, and drove steadily to clinch his second consecutive victory. "It's really important for the championship to be competitive on gravel," said Loeb. "Now we've won the last two rallies (both on gravel) so we're really looking good for the other rallies and the championship."

Loeb's eventual dominance was such that it was easy to forget how tense the lead battle had been on the opening morning, when Gronholm, Loeb, Mikko Hirvonen and Petter Solberg all ran within nine seconds of each other after the first five stages.

But then Loeb asserted himself in the second part of leg one, having cured the understeer that had left him as low as fourth early on Friday.

Six straight stage wins for Loeb on Saturday coincided with some poor tyre choices by Gronholm, leaving the world champion 40 seconds in front by the end of the day, and convincing Gronholm that the battle for victory was over.

It took until leg three for Mikko Hirvonen to shake off the chasing Petter Solberg and secure third. Solberg drifted further behind this afternoon, struggling with a developing engine problem on his Subaru.

At first Solberg reported only an unsatisfactory engine response, but the car's performance worsened, and he had to attempt makeshift repairs on the final road section before limping through the Estadio Algarve superspecial on a limited number of cylinders.

"It's been quite difficult," said Solberg. "But we set many good stage times and the car will be even better by the next rally after we've been testing and got a better balance."

Although Hirvonen was content with third, he rued his inability to keep pace with the lead duo.

"A fantastic rally for me, I really enjoyed it," he said. "Okay maybe it wasn't the result I was hoping for, but an enjoyable rally.

"I was hoping to stay closer and fight for the win, but it didn't happen on this rally so I'm happy with third."

Dani Sordo produced another consistent run to fifth for Citroen, ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala - who was arguably the star of the rally. Despite a costly error at the very first corner of Thursday evening's superspecial, hydraulic problems on Friday morning, and a trip off the road on Saturday, Stobart Ford driver Latvala comfortably outperformed the rest of the large non-factory contingent and set several top three stage times on the way to sixth.

Solberg's late delay elevated Gigi Galli into the points. The exuberant Italian had struggled to get to grips with his privateer Citroen Xsara but had a relatively trouble-free run - a final day puncture apart - and earned eighth place.

Final Standings after SS18:

1. S Loeb/D Elena (Citroen C4) 3hr 53min 33.1sec
2. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen (Ford Focus RS) 3hr 54min 10.2sec
3. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen (Ford Focus RS) 3hr 55min 41.2sec
4. P Solberg/P Mills (Subaru Impreza) 3hr 56min 47.0sec
5. D Sordo/M Marti (Citroen C4) 3hr 58min 38.4sec
6. J-M Latvala/M Anttila (Ford Focus RS) 3hr 59min 18.0sec
7. D Carlsson/D Giraudet (Citroen Xsara) 4hr 01min 46.3sec
8. G Galli/G Bernacchini (Citroen Xsara) 4hr 03min 12.7sec
9. H Solberg/C Menkerud (Ford Focus RS) 4hr 04min 45.5sec
10 M Stohl/I Minor (Citroen Xsara) 4hr 06min 19.1sec
12. M Wilson/M Orr (Ford) + 14:36.1
13. G MacHale/P Nagle (Ford) + 16:02.3

( report courtesy of )