Sebastien Loeb’s immaculate start to the World Rally Championship continued with victory on the Rally of Portugal, his fourth win out of four events in 2009.
The Citroen driver’s victory, the 51st of his WRC career, sees him open up a 10-point lead over Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen at the top of the drivers’ standings and it is becoming difficult to see how any of his rivals can stop him marching to a sixth successive world title.
The Frenchman had trailed rival Hirvonen after the first full day of competition following an error he made at the opening turn of the second stage of the event, but he hit back in superb style to win all of Saturday’s six stages and open up a 26.8-second lead over the Finn.
That winning run continued into Sunday as the Frenchman won the opening two tests of the day to extend that lead to 31.1 seconds before easing back his pace to eventually claim a winning margin of 24.3 seconds.
Loeb was even able to contend with a faulty electronic reading which indicated that Hirvonen had taken 14 seconds out of his lead on the penultimate stage of the event, when in fact the margin was just 2.4 seconds.
“I was convinced it was wrong,” he said of the timing error. “I had done a good drive, I hadn’t made a mistake, and there was nothing wrong, so I ignored it.
“If Mikko had really been that fast he’d be leading by seven minutes!”
The C4 WRC driver admitted that apart from his mistake earlier in the rally he had enjoyed a faultless run.
“It’s incredible. Apart from missing that junction, it was a perfect rally,” said Loeb.
“There were no problems with the car. We were really on the limit on the time, and finally we have won now, so I’m very, very happy.”
Spain’s Dani Sordo took another solid third for Citroen with Norwegian Petter Solberg once again impressing by taking fourth place in his dated 2006 model Citroen Xsara.
There was disappointment for Britain’s Matthew Wilson who crashed out of fifth place with just one stage left to run, gifting the position to Stobart Ford team-mate Henning Solberg.
The Subaru of Mads Ostberg and the Fords of Federico Villagra and Khalid Al-Qassimi completed the top eight pointscoring positions.