Rallying: Loeb's late surge earns Welsh win

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The Independent Online

World champion Sébastien Loeb rounded off his season in fine style yesterday by claiming his maiden Wales Rally GB victory in dramatic style. The Frenchman had entered the final leg trailing Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala by 7.3 seconds but set about trimming that lead with the fastest times on the first two of yesterday's four stages, moving to within 1.4 seconds of the Finn, who struggled in the slippery conditions.

The Citroë*driver then set the fastest time on the day's third test, a second run through the Rheola forestry, which looked set to give him a handy lead, only for officials to hit the five-time champion with a 10-second penalty for jumping the start. That error allowed Latvala to extend his advantage to 2.2sec as the leaders prepared for the final run through Port Talbot, but Loeb was not to be denied. His time through the 20.1km stage saw him emerge the victor by just 2.7sec – the closest finish to the British round of the World Championship.

Loeb's 11th win of the season, a new record, and a podium for Dani Sordo, who was over a minute behind the leading pair, also ensured that Citroë*took the manufacturers' championship ahead of Ford. Loeb was ecstatic but felt the officials had been wrong to hand him his earlier penalty. "It's not possible that I jumped the start," he said. "It was really tricky with the ice but this win was really enjoyable – it was such a good fight with Jari-Matti. I tried everything I could during that last stage." Latvala said: "I could not have driven any better."

Cumbria's Matthew Wilson finished just outside the points in ninth, with Aberdeen's Barry Clark a fine 10th. Six-time MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi was an impressive 12th after working his way through the field as others hit trouble.

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