Rallying: Loeb holds off Gronholm's last-day charge to reduce world title deficit

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The Independent Online

The reigning world champion Sébastien Loeb won his third successive Rally Catalunya to cut championship leader Marcus Grönholm's advantage in this year's competition to six points yesterday.

Loeb retained his overnight lead to take victory by 13.8 seconds from Citroë* team-mate Dani Sordo, with Grönholm, who held a 10-point lead going into the rally, back in third.

Grönholm won two of yesterday's four stages – and tied first with Loeb in another – in his Ford Focus but could not overturn a 50.6sec deficit from the first day.

Grönholm tops the drivers' standings with 96 points with Loeb on 90 following his sixth rally victory of the season. Grönholm's team-mate and fellow Finn Mikko Hirvonen, who was fourth in Catalunya, is third on 74 points.

Loeb was delighted to see his imperious form on Tarmac continue and hopes to be rewarded once more in Corsica when the French rally begins on Friday.

"This is important for the championship," said Loeb. "The car worked very well. I'm grateful to the team and Dani had a very good result, too."

Four rallies remain this season with the title race set to go to the wire, and Loeb added: "I hope we can get the same results on the Tarmac rallies to come, and then for the rest we will see."

Grönholm, who is set to retire at the end of the season, rued Friday's performance which could have damaged his hopes of bowing out with a third world title, following his triumphs in 2000 and 2002.

"I lost 34 seconds in the wet on Friday," said the 39-year-old. "I was not confident to drive with the hard slick [tyres], I was too careful.

"From the beginning we saw that I was losing time as much as the rally was going on. I hope that I could be faster in Corsica although I'm under a lot of pressure. I was second there last year and hopefully we can do the same at least."

Sordo was delighted with his performance on home soil which benefited his team-mate.

"It's a big job [to beat Grönholm], so this is a very good day for me," the Spaniard said. "I am very happy with this rally."