Catalunya, October 29: Rally legend Sebastien Loeb turned the clock back to claim his first win in almost five years at the Rally of Spain where he edged defending champion Sebastien Ogier by 2.9sec in an intense final day.
The nine-time World Rally Championship (WRC) winner was making his final guest appearance of the season with Citroen Racing in Catalunya and he made it a memorable one.
Loeb who had retired from full-time WRC competition in 2012, last stood on the winners' podium in Argentina in 2013. He had also competed in Dakar Rally with Puegeot support.
The batttle between the two Frenchmen, who had a frosty relationship during their Citroen days in WRC was the highlight of the four-day mixed surface event.
Ogier's consolation was that he regained the WRC lead by three points from Thierry Neuville with one round remaining.
The Belgian was relegated from third to fourth, and missed out on crucial bonus points, after hitting a stone near the finish.
The Estonian is 23 points adrift of Ogier and with a maximum 30 available at the last round, his hopes hang by a thread.
Esapekka Lappi finished seventh ahead of Toyota Yaris team-mate and overnight leader Jari-Matti Latvala. The Finn remained second until he hit a barrier in the penultimate stage, punctured his front left tyre and dropped nearly 50sec.
Craig Breen and Andreas Mikkelsen completed the top 10.
Now the WRC caravan heads to Australia for the title showdown. The gravel event to based in Coffs Harbour will be held from November 15 to 18.
Loeb was lying third overnight but charged into the lead by winning final day's opening two speed tests as an inspired tyre choice reaped rewards.
Loeb threw away vital seconds with a spin in the penultimate test to allow Ogier to close in his Ford Fiesta. He held on through the final 14.50km test for his ninth Spanish win.
The impact broke his Hyundai i20's right rear wheel and allowed Elfyn Evans, team-mate to Ogier, to snatch third and aid his colleague's title bid. Evans ended 0.5sec clear of Neuville.
Spain's Dani Sordo was a further 1.6sec behind in fifth, while early leader Ott Tänak recovered to sixth
Meanwhile, formerWRC champion Petter Solberg gave Volkswagen Motorsport a successful one-off return to the championship with a podium finish in the new Polo R5 in the support category.
The Norwegian and his co-driver Veronica Engan caused a stir with the best time on the most challenging and longest gravel stage of the rallyand finished third in the rally won by Skoda's young Kalle Rovanpera.
Solberg, who had has last competed at the Rally of Catalunya in 2012, made his comeback in precisely the same place, at which he called time on his career and impressed in theVW Polo GTI R5.
"What a fantastic result after six years away. It was not an easy task with just two days of testing and totally new pace notes. Which is why I am very proud of what Veronica and I achieved here," said Solberg.
(With inputs from WRC Media)
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