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Page last updated at 08:14 GMT, Sunday, 31 August 2008 09:14 UK

Loeb gifted New Zealand victory

Sebastien Loeb
With four rounds remaining Loeb leads the championship by eight points

World champion Sebastien Loeb clinched his third straight win with a dramatic victory at the Rally of New Zealand.

The Citroen driver looked to be out of the running after a spin cost him 10 seconds and left him in fourth place.

But leader Mikko Hirvonen lost around a minute after a puncture and spin, while BP Ford team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala retired after damaging his radiator.

Frenchman Loeb finished 17.5 seconds ahead of team-mate Dani Sordo, with Hirvonen a further 24secs behind.

With four rallies remaining, Loeb leads Hirvonen by just eight points in the drivers' championship standings.

"This morning I had the spin and just wasn't able to make up the gap to Mikko - I thought it was over and we'd lost the chance," Loeb said.

"But then it all changed and we were leading again. But this was really a difficult rally, changing all the time, with some strategy coming in, too.

The season isn't over yet so we just have to go flat out again on the next rallies

Mikko Hirvonen
"I needed to win for sure, and that's very nice, but I'm not happy for what happened to Mikko because he was doing really well and it was a good battle. But these things happen sometimes."

Loeb started leg three in third after deliberately conceding the lead on Saturday to avoid starting first.

Although he pegged back some time on Hirvonen during the day, the difference seemed too great to make up heading into the 29.72km stage around the Whaanga Coast.

For long periods, it appeared as though Hirvonen and fellow Finn Latvala would clinch the top two places.

However, by the penultimate stage, Latvala had retired while his fellow countryman lost 50 seconds to a slow puncture to eventually come in third.

"I was really confident that we were going to win this rally but what could we do?" said Hirvonen.

"We had a slow puncture that dropped us to third, but I'm not going to let this knock my confidence.

"I know we can win rallies. The season isn't over yet so we just have to go flat out again on the next rallies."

Final Rally of New Zealand results:
1. Sebastien Loeb (Fra) Citroen 3 hrs 59 mins 18.9 secs
2. Dani Sordo (Spa) Citroen, + 17.5 secs
3. Mikko Hirvonen (Fin) Ford 41.5
4. Petter Solberg (Nor) Subaru 2:48.9
5. Urmo Aava (Est) Citroen 3:30.7
6. Per-Gunnar Andersson (Swe) Suzuki 7:37.4
7. Toni Gardemeister (Fin) Suzuki 7:54.9
8. Federico Villagra (Arg) Ford 8:35.0
9. Henning Solberg (Nor) Ford 9:15.2
10. Martin Prokop (Cze) Mitsubishi 13:49.0

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see also
Loeb triumphs in Rally of Germany
17 Aug 08 |  Rallying
Loeb triumphs in Rally of Finland
03 Aug 08 |  Rallying
Hirvonen wins the Rally of Turkey
15 Jun 08 |  Rallying
Loeb win closes gap on Hirvonen
18 May 08 |  Rallying

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