Penalty poses threat to Loeb's first 'triumph'

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The Independent Online

The French newcomer Sebastien Loeb was left sweating after his maiden world championship victory sparked a row in the 70th Monte Carlo Rally.

The 27-year-old, in only his second outing in a world rally car, won by 45.9sec from Tommi Makinen, denying the Finn a record fourth successive win on the world's most prestigious rally and all-time record of 24 career triumphs.

Loeb won after racing under appeal on yesterday's final four stages after he incurred a two-minute penalty when the tyres on his Citroen Xsara WRC were changed in an unauthorised area of the service park.

Makinen said he had eased off after hearing about the penalty knowing he had time in hand and had only been told about the appeal after the final stage in the French Alps. The result now depends on the decision of the court of appeal, comprising five independent lawyers, which will be set up by FIA, the sport's world governing body, in the next few weeks.

"We were ready for the fight today, but then we knew we did not have to push and decided to slow down," said Makinen, the four-times world champion, who would have been 90 seconds ahead at the start of the day if the penalty had been added to Loeb's time. "Then we get to the finish and are told there were no time penalties. It was very disappointing. Sebastien drove very well but I could have been two minutes faster today if I had needed to."

Subaru's team principal, David Lapworth, said Makinen should be declared the winner on his debut for the team as replacement for the champion, Richard Burns, who was a distant eighth on his Peugeot debut.

Loeb said he was the moral winner. "It does not matter about the politics of what happened, for me I won this rally on the road," he said.

Britain's Colin McRae finished fourth behind his Ford Focus team-mate Carlos Sainz. His hopes of a podium finish were ended on the final stage of the second day when the engine on his Focus started misfiring near the point on the Col de Turini where he has retired on the previous two seasons.

The 33-year-old Scot dropped to fifth as a result, but snatched back fourth place on yesterday's penultimate stage to finish 42 second behind Sainz, who was within 1.6sec of second place should Loeb's time penalty be imposed.

MONTE CARLO RALLY Leading final positions: 1 S Loeb (Fr) Citroen 3hr 58min 44.8sec (subject to appeal against two-minute time penalty for illegal tyre change); 2 T Makinen (Fin) Subaru +45.9sec; 3 C Sainz (Sp) Ford +2min 1.6sec; 4 C McRae (Gb) Ford +2:43.9; 5 M Gronholm (Fin) Peugeot +2:53.3; 6 P Solberg (Nor) Subaru +3:15.5; 7 G Panizzi (Fr) Peugeot +4:06.0; 8 R Burns (GB) Peugeot +5:02.3; 9 F Delecour (Fr) Mitsubishi +6:21.6; 10 T Gardemeister (Fin) Skoda +7:28.3.

Drivers' World Championship (after one event): 1 Loeb, 10pts (subject to Citroen appeal); 2 Makinen, 6; 3 Sainz, 4; 4 C McRae, 3; 5 Gronholm, 2; 6 Solberg, 1.

Manufacturers' Championship: 1 Subaru 12; 2 Ford 10; 3 Peugeot 4. (Citroen not competing in championship).

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