Loeb wraps up New Zealand Rally
Sebastien Loeb extended his World Rally Championship lead to 38 points as he took his fifth win in seven 2012 rallies in New Zealand and led team-mate Mikko Hirvonen in Citroen's third successive one-two finish.
Apart from Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala leading after SS1, Citroen was ahead all the way this weekend. Its decision to run early in the start order on Friday in the expectation of rain proved correct, and as Latvala dropped back, Hirvonen and Loeb began an intra-team battle for victory.
Loeb edged ahead during leg one, then resisted a concerted challenge from Hirvonen on Saturday, after which Citroen asked them to hold position through the forecast tricky conditions of Sunday. They obeyed the instruction and duly delivered another dominant result.
Ford had to settle for a power stage one-two and a distant third place for Petter Solberg, who fought back after an errant choice of hard tyres for Friday morning left him a long way adrift in seventh. Latvala lost five minutes with a trip off the road on Friday afternoon, and with little attrition ahead, he could only recover to seventh, but did claim a maximum power stage score.
M-Sport Ford looked set for a double top-five finish with Evgeny Novikov and Ott Tanak until the latter rolled out of fifth with two stages to go. Novikov still secured fourth, ahead of Thierry Neuville - driving the Olympics-focused Nasser Al-Attiyah's Qatar Citroen this weekend. The Belgian had been fourth for a while on Friday before losing a little ground with an error, but impressed with several stage wins on Sunday morning as he chased the M-Sport cars.
Prodrive returned to the fray with a single Mini for Dani Sordo. A wrong tyre choice and gear selection problems on Friday morning dropped Sordo out of podium contention, and he had to settle for sixth. Team Portugal's Armindo Araujo made it two Minis in the points in eighth.
Ken Block enjoyed himself enormously on the way to ninth in the Monster Ford, while Manfred Stohl completed the scorers on a one-off return to the WRC in the Brazil-branded Ford that he usually fields for Daniel Oliveira.