Citroën’s Sébastien Loeb thrashed Subaru’s Petter Solberg by just under a minute in Rally Italia on Sunday. In claiming his third win of the season, the Frenchman moved ahead of his Norwegian rival in the WRC driver’s championship standings.

Citroën’s Sébastien Loeb thrashed Subaru’s Petter Solberg by just under a minute in Rally Italia on Sunday. In claiming his third win of the season, the Frenchman moved ahead of his Norwegian rival in the WRC driver’s championship standings.


Loeb, the defending world champion gained the lead of the rally early on Friday and set a blistering pace on the first two days of the event. By the start of the Third Leg, the Frenchman was 1m21s ahead of Solberg and paced himself to victory in the final stages.


Contrary to expectations, Loeb’s Xsara WRC proved dominant on the hot-weather gravel rallies in New Zealand three weeks ago and Sardinia this past weekend. The French team’s tyre supplier, Michelin, correctly predicted that the weather would be hotter and drier than expected and offered a harder, more durable compound. The gravel-rally favoured Subaru team - and its tyre supplier Pirelli – will be wary of how much Citroën, Loeb and Michelin have improved on hot gravel events, because the next three rounds (Cyprus, Turkey and Greece) are likely to feature similar conditions.


"I wanted to take it steadily, but I upped my pace on Saturday afternoon. I wanted to go into Sunday with a sufficient cushion because the final leg was made up of six stages without a service break," Loeb, who now leads Solberg by one point, said. "I pushed quite hard while trying to drive as cleanly as possible. This is the sort of event where you can end up losing time if you try to hard. You risk hitting trouble."


Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm emerged from a battle of attrition to take third spot, fighting his way back up the field after losing 1m45s on Friday - when he rolled his 307 WRC. Mikko Hirvonen, in a privately-entered Focus WRC, held the place on the opening leg as he showed the sort of form he was lacking as a works Subaru driver last year, and was even briefly as high as second. The Finn crashed out at the start of Saturday's second leg, however, handing the podium place to fellow countryman Harry Rovanpera, who was setting impressive pace in the works Mitsubishi Lancer WRC, which seemed on the pace again after a disappointing weekend in New Zealand.


There was to be disappointment for Rovanpera at the start of Sunday's final leg, however, when damage to his front suspension forced him out of the rally. Gronholm was followed home by Peugeot team-mate Markko Martin, allowing the French team to consolidate its place at the head of the manufacturers' standings. Rovanpera's retirement capped a very frustrating day for Mitsubishi… Gigi Galli - who had been equally impressive in his home rally – retired due to gearbox problems that dogged his late-Saturday running.


Ford's Toni Gardemeister brought the lead works car home in fifth after pulling out of Saturday's final stage with falling oil pressure. The Finn will be forced to run the same engine again in Cyprus in two-weeks’ time or face a time penalty should the team decide to replace the powerplant. Roman Kresta made it to the end the event in sixth in the second works Ford, ahead of Antony Warmbold in his 2004-spec privateer Focus. Citroën privateers Juuso Pykalisto and Manfred Stohl rounded out the top eight in their OMV-backed Kronos Racing-run Xsaras, ahead of former British champion Mark Higgins in his 2003-spec privateer Focus. Works Citroën driver Francois Duval finished 11th to notch up two more manufacturers' championship points - despite briefly pulling out of the rally on Friday's opening leg.


Subaru’s Stephane Sarrazin passed Skoda driver Janne Tuohino for 12th on the penultimate stage, but as he wasn't nominated for manufacturers' championship points, had to cede the final point to Tuohino. Armin Schwarz's other works Skoda was excluded at the start of Sunday's leg for receiving outside assistance. Impressive Australian Subaru rookie Chris Atkinson finished 15th after effectively retiring from the rally twice, but again proved the pace he showed in New Zealand and topped the stage times on the penultimate test.

Original article from Car