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World champion Loeb crashes out, Hirvonen retains lead

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-06-14

Citroen's Sébastien Loeb spun off the road during Saturday's first stage, pulling out of the Greek rally. Ford driver Mikko Hirvonen is still leading at the close of day two on Saturday, after teammate Jari-Matti Latvala went off the track.

REUTERS - Ford driver Mikko Hirvonen retained the overnight lead of the Acropolis Rally of Greece on Saturday while world champion Sebastian Loeb crashed out.

 

Hirvonen, who trails the Citroen driver by 17 points in the overall standings, led Loeb's French compatriot Sebastien Ogier by one minute and 40 seconds after an incident-free run through the second leg.

 

Hirvonen's team mate and fellow Finn Jari-Matti Latvala was third after ending the day two minutes and 44 seconds behind in his Focus RS car.

 

Russia's Evgeny Novikov was fourth in a Citroen.

 

On a day of searing heat and difficult conditions, Loeb started 21 seconds behind Hirvonen but the Frenchman's challenge was over halfway through the opening seventh stage when his car hit a rock, careered off the track and rolled repeatedly.

 

"The car is destroyed. There's no chance to return tomorrow. The race is over. We are okay, that's the main thing," said Loeb, who won in Greece last year.

 

Both he and his co-driver Daniel Elena escaped unhurt with the car left mangled and missing a wheel.

 

Citroen team mate Dani Sordo, who had been second, then hit a rock on stage nine and was also forced to retire.

 

"It was a perfect day for us," said Hirvonen. "We made no mistakes, faced no problems and we have a big difference, but you never know."

 

Ford were also heading for a good manufacturers' championship result as Latvala's recovery from overnight 11th to third put the team on course for a potential maximum 18 points.

 

Despite two uncharacteristically disappointing rallies, Loeb remained optimistic about his chances of winning a record sixth consecutive world title.

 

"We might have lost a lot of championship points but we are still leading - and that's an important point," he said.

 

"Maybe my lead will be less, and that will make it more exciting for some people. It's bad for Citroen, but that's the race. We'll do better next time."

 

Norwegian pair Petter Solberg and Mads Ostberg were also high-profile casualties when they suffered suspension problems on the 11th stage and were forced to retire.

 

Solberg later decided not to restart the rally on Sunday after an inspection showed his car was too badly damaged.

 

"We might have been able to repair it but I have only one car. If we carry on tomorrow we might get seventh or eighth, but we might not be able to start Poland," he was quoted as saying on the World Rally Championship website (www.wrc.com).

 

Sunday's final day features five stages.

Date created : 2009-06-13

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