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2011-11-12 08:20

TITLE BY DEFAULT: Sebastien Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena during the Great Orme stage of the 2011 Rally of Britain. Loeb retain his title for the eighth time after Mikko Hirvonen dropped out. Image: AFP

CARDIFF, Wales - Sebastien Loeb won an eighth consecutive World Rally championship title on Friday after Mikko Hirvonen's dream of ending his record run ended when his Ford stopped on the first full day of the Rally of Britain.

Citroen's Loeb, who came into the season-ending rally eight points clear of Hirvonen, had his title confirmed when a Ford spokesman said his rival's car was too badly damaged to restart on Saturday.


The Finn had hit a submerged branch and damaged the car's radiator.

"He's definitely out. He's not re-starting," added the spokesman.

"It's over for sure," Hirvonen told the official wrc.com website of his bid for a first title.

"I have to thank the team for a really good effort and all the help. Unfortunately we have to look to the future and see what we can do."

Hirvonen, who had taken the overall lead earlier in the day from Loeb, had to pull over on the road while attempting to nurse the Ford back to the service area in Builth Wells in central Wales.

The Finn's Fiesta hit the branch on Stage 7. "There was a big slide and the rear touched the bank," he said. "I spun and it pulled the front of the car into a bank where there was a tree stump. The wood came through the radiator.

“There was no real damage but we lost all the water in the engine. We carried on for five or six kilometres but that was it."


Even before he stopped, Hirvonen had lost almost four minutes to Loeb, the overnight leader after three stages on Thursday, because of the incident.

"It's devastating to go out in an incredible battle with Sebastien Loeb," said Ford team boss Malcolm Wilson. "It's a huge disappointment for the whole team after getting back into the championship fight again and then sadly losing it on the first day of the event."

Loeb had started the rally with 222 points to Hirvonen's 214 and Citroen's Sebastien Ogier, who crashed out on Thursday, on 193 with just 25 remaining to be won.

The Frenchman leads after the first leg by 1.1 seconds from Finland's Jari-Matti Latvala, with Norway's Mads Ostberg in third.

The final rally of the season will finish on Sunday.

Rally of Britain first leg classification
on Friday

1 Sebastien Loeb (France) Citroen 1hr23min18.3
2 Jari-Matti Latvala (Finland) Ford +0min01.1
3 Mads Ostberg (Norway) Ford +1min13.5
4 Petter Solberg (Norway) Citroen +1min21.3
5 Henning Solberg (Norway) Ford +2min51.7
6 Ott Taenak (Estonia) Ford +3min46.0
7 Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Citroen +3min47.0
8 Kris Meeke (Britain) Mini +3min51.3
9 Matthew Wilson (Britain) Ford +3min59.4
10 Dennis Kuipers (Netherlands) Ford +4min23.2


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