Sebastien Loeb clinched a comfortable seventh World Rally Championship victory of the season by leading throughout the Rally of Spain, while his Citroen teammate Dani Sordo just failed to deny Petter Solberg second place.
With the opening day of the revamped mixed-surface event run mostly on gravel, Loeb was expected to lose time running first on the road. But, helped by slightly damp conditions, Loeb was able to take an immediate lead – though Citroen Junior's Sebastien Ogier kept him under pressure.
Ogier's challenge ended when he misheard a pace note and slid into a barrier on Saturday morning, dropping from a close second to 17th place. Loeb was then free to cruise to another win, maintaining his unbeaten run on asphalt through a seventh season.
"A very good result in Spain again, there was nothing to play for in the championship here so we could drive without any added pressure and I started to push very hard from the opening day," said Loeb, who now has six wins in Spain. "Once we were leading, we could take the two days on asphalt easier."
Sordo had struggled on Friday and started day two a minute off the lead in sixth. But once back on asphalt, he flew, with a series of stage wins getting him right onto the Solberg Citroen's tail. Solberg had it under control though, securing second by 5.8 seconds despite fearing he had been "too sideways" on the last stage.
Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen finished fourth and fifth. Latvala had run second early on but fell away during the asphalt legs, while Hirvonen lost several minutes with a turbo problem on Saturday.
Stobart Ford's Matthew Wilson completed the top six, his nearest rivals Federico Villagra (Munchi's Ford) and Hungarian privateer Frigyes Turan dropping out with overheating and a late crash respectively.
Behind Khalid Al Qassimi (Ford) and Henning Solberg's S2000 Ford, Ken Block (Monster Ford) recovered from a Saturday error to take his first World Rally Championship points in ninth, while Ogier fought back to 10th despite another incident this morning. Ogier was the only Citroen Junior car in the rally, his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen ruling himself out with a heavy crash on the shakedown.
Another late twist in the Junior title battle saw Hans Weijs Jr. lose the class lead to a crankshaft sensor issue on the penultimate stage – which meant Aaron Burkart's eventual fourth place under superally was enough to give the German the championship even though he had crashed after losing a wheel yesterday. Weijs' late heartbreak also meant Yeray Lemes took the Junior win on the rally, as he regained the lead he had lost to a broken wheel this morning.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen 3h32m59.7s
2. Petter Solberg Citroen + 35.3s
3. Dani Sordo Citroen + 41.1s
4. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 1m19.5s
5. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 6m32.9s
6. Matthew Wilson Ford + 8m17.6s
7. Khalid Al Qassimi Ford + 13m05.7s
8. Henning Solberg Ford + 13m11.2s
9. Ken Block Ford + 16m01.2s
10. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 17m24.1s