Loeb's title frustrates Gronholm

Sebastien Loeb narrowly won the Rally of Germany yesterday, finishing just over three seconds ahead of Marcus Gronholm. A year after winning in Germany to clinch his maiden rally victory, it was a sweet successful title defence for the 29-year-old Frenchman.

There was a tense finish to the rally which had earlier been affected by heavy rain and was wide open going into the 22nd and final stage. Loeb's Citroën led by 13 seconds before the drivers set off on the 18.93km stage, and in the end he won by a slender 3.6sec.

Gronholm, in his Peugeot, took second place behind Markko Martin's Ford Focus in the climax to the race, but his time of 10min 32.7sec was not quick enough to displace Loeb at the top of the leaderboard.

"I am very happy," Loeb said. "I have had a good fight with Marcus all through the race."

Gronholm narrowly missed his first title on asphalt and said he was looking forward to the next race, which will be held in Finland in two weeks' time.

"The margin wasn't big, but big enough for Sebastien," Gronholm said. "It was a really difficult stage with lots of mud and cutting corners. Really bad."

Loeb took seventh place on the final stage, which was enough to secure victory and move him up to fourth in the season's world championship standings. Loeb's 10 points helped him to close in on the championship leader, Richard Burns.

The Briton, in a Peugeot, took six points for third -- 19.7sec off Loeb's pace - and is only four points ahead of the Spaniard Carlos Sainz, who finished sixth, at the top of the standings.

Gronholm, the defending world champion, benefited from eight points for finishing second to Loeb, and that strengthens his third-place standing. He now has 38 points, five more than Loeb who has been dogged by inconsistency this season.

Loeb's victory in the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally has been followed by a flurry of disappointing results, with the Frenchman failing to score points on three events. A similar criticism can be made of Gronholm, with his points haul from Germany being the only time he has scored when not winning a rally.

The Finn has now won three rallies this season, while Burns has yet to stand on top of the rostrum despite leading the world championship standings. Yet the Briton has been scoring high points throughout the season. He has failed on just one occasion to get in the points, on the last rally prior to Germany, in Cyprus.