Citroen's Sebastian Loeb eased to a comfortable victory in the Rally Bulgaria yesterday to claim his fourth win of the season.
The 36-year-old French driver, chasing his seventh title in a row, stamped his authority on asphalt once again to finish 29.5 seconds ahead of Spanish team-mate Dani Sordo.
He took his record career tally of wins to 58 and in the overall standings now has 151 points, followed by Sebastien Ogier with 100 and Mikko Hirvonen on 86.
Loeb had built up a lead of more than half a minute after winning the first five stages of the first World Rally Championship (WRC) event to be held in Bulgaria but then opted for caution in the final sections of the race.
"It's been a perfect race," said a delighted Loeb. "I made a good start and it was a very good first day. On the second day we had difficult conditions and it was difficult to keep concentration. But it was important to just keep the rhythm and not make any mistakes, not take any risks." Loeb has now won the last 16 all-asphalt WRC races.
Sordo, yet to post a world championship win, hung on to second after a tense battle with Norway's Petter Solberg.
Solberg, the 2003 world champion, driving a privately-entered Citroën, came third despite winning five of the last seven stages of the 354 km race.
Ogier, who clinched his maiden win at the Rally of Portugal in May, completed a perfect day for Citroë*with his fourth position. It was the best finish for a manufacturer since Toyota achieved a similar result at the 1993 Safari Rally.
Ex-junior world champion Ogier, 26, lost a lot of time after going off the road on the opening day, but rediscovered his speed and even managed to win the last stage in the Rila mountains.
Rally of Sweden winner Hirvonen was the highest-placed Ford in fifth position with team-mate and Finnish compatriot Jari-Matti Latvala sixth. "Fifth brings some good points for the team but I hoped for more," said Hirvonen.