Sebastien Loeb made his World Rally Championship points lead slightly more comfortable by taking his second win of 2011 in the Rally d'Italia.
Despite spending the entire weekend running first on often dusty roads, Loeb (Citroen) led the event from midday Friday onward. The result was a tribute both to Loeb's performance in maintaining good pace even when stage conditions were much worse for him than those following, and an indication of the number of problems his potential challengers had.
Mikko Hirvonen led for a while early on and was in a close battle with Loeb on Friday when a puncture cost him just under a minute. The Ford driver mounted a determined fightback to finish just 11.2 seconds behind Loeb in second place, and also grabbed the three bonus points for winning the power stage.
Petter Solberg also had a shot at victory, but after winning the rally's opening stage, a turbo issue cost him 40s on SS2. The Solberg Citroen driver also recovered well, though he could not deny Hirvonen second in the end.
After his back to back wins in Portugal and Jordan, Citroen's Sebastien Ogier seemed out of sorts in Italy. He was still in the fight for second until breaking his suspension on the penultimate stage, leaving him fourth.
Jari-Matti Latvala (Ford) showed he had the pace to challenge for victory by winning nine of the rally's 18 stages. But it was to no avail as he was running under superally following a crash on Friday morning.
Mini made a very encouraging debut, with Dani Sordo having an almost trouble-free run to sixth, and Kris Meeke holding fourth after two stages before a throttle problem sent him off the road.
Stobart Ford's Mads Ostberg, PG Andersson and Evgeny Novikov had all battled for top three positions at times during day one, but in the end the team's only top-10 finisher was Ostberg in fifth. Andersson lost 16 minutes fixing a broken steering arm and Novikov crashed and had to return under superally.
Markko Martin's protege Ott Tanak defeated Intercontinental Rally Challenge champion Juho Hanninen to not only win the S2000 class, but take a brilliant seventh overall, ahead of plenty of WRC midfielders.
Tanak's fellow Estonian Egon Kaur remains unbeaten in the new WRC Academy, recovering from a Friday accident to win a highly eventful contest in the feeder class.
Final results after SS18:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen 3h45m40.9s
2. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 11.2s
3. Petter Solberg Solberg Citroen + 23.8s
4. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 1m31.5s
5. Mads Ostberg Stobart Ford + 2m42.6s
6. Dani Sordo Mini + 3m27.6s
7. Ott Tanak MM Ford + 7m10.9s
8. Juho Hanninen Red Bull Skoda + 7m37.6s
9. Matthew Wilson Stobart Ford + 8m00.4s
10. Nasser Al-Attiyah Barwa Ford + 12m33.8s