Five-times world champion Sebastien Loeb of France has moved to within one point of the championship leader, Finland's Mikko Hirvonen, following victory in the Australian rally.
AFP - Five-times world champion Sebastien Loeb closed to within one point of championship leader Mikko Hirvonen following victory in Rally Australia in the northern New South Wales region on Sunday.
The French Citroen Total team leader finished the new race 12.5 seconds ahead of Ford Abu Dhabi Team driver Hirvonen of Finland.
Round 10 of the FIA World Rally Championship saw Loeb's Spanish teammate Dani Sordo come third, 4.6sec further back after losing out in a desperate battle with Hirvonen that went to the last of the 35 special stages.
It was Loeb's 53rd rally win and his sixth maximum 10-point haul of the season, leaving him within a point of Hirvonen on the championship standings with two rallies left in Spain and Britain.
The Frenchman, linked with a drive for the Red Bull-owned Formula One team Torro Rosso in this year's season finale in Abu Dhabi, is firmly back in contention for a sixth consecutive WRC drivers' title.
Loeb won the opening five rallies of the season, his last success in Argentina in April, but dipped out in his next four events to enable Hirvonen to take over the championship running.
"This one is a good one," said Loeb. "It was a hard fight and because it's been a long time since our last win it feels especially good.
"It was really important for the championship to win here. We've done it and I'm really happy.
"Spain is next and we're one point behind Mikko -- the championship is really interesting this year. It will be an incredible fight to the final."
Loeb won nine of the special stages ahead of Citroen Junior Team driver Sebastien Ogier with eight, Finland's Jari-Matti Latvala's seven and Hirvonen's five.
The final day's victory was a tactical triumph for Loeb, who gambled by relinquishing the lead to Hirvonen on Saturday in exchange for a better road position on Sunday's stages.
With the leading car given the difficult job of clearing the road of gravel for his following rivals, Loeb decided he would have little chance as the first car out.
Instead Hirvonen, who was chasing a fourth consecutive rally win this weekend, had to drive flat out in a bid to overcome his disadvantageous road position.
But he couldn't match Loeb's pace and had to settle for a thrilling battle with Sordo for second place.
"It was a really tough weekend. There have been many rallies this season where we've been absolutely flat out from start to finish and this was one of those," Hirvonen said.
Sordo performed well on the gravel and contributed valuable points for Citroen, which leads the manufacturers' championship, 18 points ahead of Ford.
"I pushed really, really hard to try and keep Mikko behind but it was impossible," Sordo said. "I lost second place but I'm still happy with what we've got."
Fourth place went to Ogier ahead of Latvala, in a Ford Focus.
The next leg of the World Rally Championship takes place in Spain from October 2-4.
Date created : 2009-09-06