Citroën's Sébastien Loeb, previously regarded as an asphalt rally specialist, became the first non-Scandinavian driver to win the Swedish Rally in the 54-year history of the event on Sunday.

Citroën's Sébastien Loeb, previously regarded as an asphalt rally specialist, became the first non-Scandinavian driver to win the Swedish Rally in the 54-year history of the event on Sunday.


Loeb's consistency despite changeable conditions was the key to his success. Veteran Marcus Gronholm leapt into the lead on Friday in the new Peugeot 307, only to suffer a power steering failure that handed the lead to Ford’s Markko Martin. But the Estonian hit trouble on Saturday when he struck a snow-covered rock that severely damaged his Focus RS WRC 03.


But Loeb extended his lead on Saturday afternoon when Gronholm suffered a time-consuming spin near the end of the day. The Finn had another spin on Sunday morning, as the snow fell with a vengeance, and spent the rest of the event defending second place from Subaru’s reigning world champion Petter Solberg.


Loeb finished 46,4 seconds ahead of Gronholm. In doing so, the Frenchman became only the fourth driver to score back-to-back wins in Monte Carlo and Sweden.


"It is great for me to win here," said the Frenchman, whose Xsara WRC ran faultlessly through the two loops of three stages to the north of the rally's Karlstad base. "Before the event I didn't really think this was possible, but when we ended day two in the lead, we knew we were in good shape.


"It's very good for me to win on a surface that's not asphalt and the snow is very much like gravel, so hopefully this looks good for those events later in the season," he added.


Solberg meanwhile completed the podium, with privateer and brother Henning completing the top six behind Ford's Janne Tuohino and the limping Carlos Sainz, whose Citroën engine troubles on the last two stages cost him 30 seconds.


"I had noticed the engine temperature shoot up and then go down again on the first stage this afternoon, but then on the next one it dropped onto three cylinders," explained the Spaniard, "I don't know exactly what caused the problem, maybe a head gasket or something related. It's a real disappointment, but at the same time I've gained a lot of confidence from this rally."


Solberg enjoyed a more straightforward day than on Saturday, when a mixture of mechanical trouble and spins cost him valuable time and the chance to challenge for victory. In the end he was pleased with third, his best result to date in Sweden.


"It's been incredible, I'm very, very happy," noted the reigning world champion, "It's been a real adventure to drive over the past few days, very hard work and our luck has been up and down, but third is a good result. There's much more speed now and I'd say that my performance on snow has increased 100 per cent. I have to admit that before this event I was a little worried by my previous record here in Sweden, but I enjoyed this event and to have some points early in the year is good news."


Privateer Daniel Carlsson, scored the final drivers' point in eighth, while early leader, Markko Martin eventually came home seventh - the Estonian is still mad at himself though after throwing away yesterday what was practically a dead cert win.


"One mistake yesterday cost us a lot," said Martin, "It has been a strange rally as everyone seems to have made mistakes but we paid a high price for ours. On Friday we did everything we could to take the lead, but in the end it just didn't happen for us. I'm disappointed for myself and for the team. It will take a while to get over this. It hurts a lot and I still can't believe it happened”.


Overall then 49 competitors crossed the final line in Karlstad, 70 having started on Friday. The most noticeable retirements were Gilles Panizzi, Kristian Sohlberg, and Peugeot's Freddy Loix - gearbox woes accounting for the Mitsubishi duo, while engine problems sidelined Loix.

Original article from Car