Reigning World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb won the Acropolis Rally in Greece today to reclaim the lead in the drivers’ championship.
The Citroen driver, bidding for a fifth consecutive crown, extended his overnight lead on the final day to cross the finish line in Athens one minute nine seconds ahead of Petter Solberg.
Loeb’s victory was his fifth in seven rallies this year and moves him a point above Mikko Hirvonen in the overall classification after the BP Ford driver finished in third place.
Hirvonen’s hopes of maintaining his championship lead were undermined by mechanical problems on Friday when he lost valuable time to be well off the pace in seventh.
However, he recovered some of that ground during the weekend’s action to ensure Loeb will hold a slender advantage ahead of the Rally of Turkey in a fortnight’s time.
“This rally was definitely the hardest I’ve ever done,” Hirvonen told World Rally Championship official website www.wrc.com.
“I had so many problems early on that I’m very happy to be third. Okay, I’m disappointed to have lost the lead of the championship, but to be only one point behind halfway through the season is not so bad.”
It was only the second Greek victory for Loeb in his illustrious career.
Ford have enjoyed a recent dominance on the rocky surface in Greece, claiming six of the past eight rallies, with Loeb’s only previous success coming in 2005.
And while both Ford drivers suffered suspension damage after hitting the same hole in the road on Friday, Loeb was understandably happy to claim victory in a race he might not have expected to.
“It was a tough and long weekend but in the circumstances it was almost a perfect rally,” Loeb said.
“It’s been hard for all of us driving in such rough conditions. It wasn’t just a question of going fast; instead it was all about knowing where to push and where to slow down.
“But we had a good speed overall and I’m very happy with the feeling of my C4. In the past we’re struggled to catch the Fords on this rally, but not this year.”