Rallying: Win in Turkey sees Loeb extend lead at the top

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The Independent Online

Defending FIA World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb extended his lead at the top of his season's standings by taking victory in the Rally of Turkey yesterday.

After heavy overnight rain forced the day's opening two stages to be cancelled because they had been turned into a mudbath, the Frenchman finished 54.5 seconds ahead of Norwegian Petter Solberg in a privately-entered Citroen.

Ford's Finnish driver Mikko Hirvonen was third, after hitting a rock and picking up a rear tyre puncture on the last day, to deny Citroen a podium sweep.

Citroen's Dani Sordo, who had been third, crashed out and junior team driver Sebastien Ogier was fourth for the French manufacturer.

Former Ferrari Formula One champion Kimi Raikkonen finished fifth for his second successive points finish and best result since he switched from grand prix racing at the end of last season.

Loeb, chasing his seventh title in a row, took his record career tally of wins to 57 and extended his championship lead to 40 points.

The Citroen driver has 93, Solberg 53 and Hirvonen 52.

Loeb was quickest through the day's opening Ballica stage, returning to service on the Asian side of Istanbul with a smile on his face after his car flew some 85 metres through the air off one of the jumps.

"It was an incredible sensation as we were up in the air for several seconds," he said. "Not for a moment did we imagine that we would jump so far. We gave ourselves a few more scares but I had to keep on pushing."

After the shenanigans of the previous rally in Jordan, where teams played tactics to ensure the leading drivers would not be acting as roadsweepers by running first, Loeb led from the front and took the rewards.

"This victory gives me a lot of pleasure," he said. "The route was a real challenge with some very quick sections and others in which you had to nurse the car.

"This third win on the trot has helped us to make the break in the world championship as we now have 40 points in hand over our nearest rival."

Hirvonen said he had done his best to try and break Citroen's stranglehold.

"I decided to chase the victory this morning but the two cancelled stages didn't help me," he said.

"The car slid wide at a very fast place and hit a rock, puncturing the tyre. The tyre was destroyed after 10km but we decided to continue and only lost about 45 seconds, so that was the right decision.

"The impact also damaged the lining of the wheel arch and the car filled with dust and grit. It was so bad I couldn't see properly."