Sebastien Loeb capitalised on Marcus Gronholm's error to seize control of the World Rally Championship title race in Ireland yesterday. Gronholm, the championship leader, crashed his BP Ford into a wall in stage four, while reigning champion Loeb (Citroen) took the leg one lead, 11.2 seconds ahead of team-mate Dani Sordo.
Gronholm, who was knocked out, and his co-driver, Timo Rautiainen, were later released from Sligo hospital,. but the crash has handed the initiative to the Frenchman, who requires victory in the last two rounds to claim a fourth successive world title.
Loeb said: "There is a lot of mud everywhere, so I just try to keep a good feeling. If I go too slowly I lose confidence and then I'm not able to drive. So I try to keep a good rhythm."
Gronholm, in his last season before retiring, held a four-point lead over Loeb at the top of the drivers' standings going into the race, the penultimate round of this year's championship, with only the Rally of Great Britain to follow. The crash on the fast section of the Lough Gill stage was a repeat of the last round in Japan as Gronholm retired in leg one, but the Finn earned a reprieve on that occasion when Loeb crashed out on leg two.
The Frenchman plans to make amends for that mistake. "What's important is to keep the car on the road," he added. "For the moment everything is OK."