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Loeb storms to victory in Cyprus for 50th win

DEFENDING world champion Sebastien Loeb of France held off Mikko Hirvonen of Finland yesterday to win the Cyprus Rally for his third straight victory of the season.

The five-time champion's 27.2-second win lifted his career victory tally to a record 50 races ?? 20 more than his nearest rival.

Loeb covered the 14 special stages in 4 hours, 50 minutes, 34.7 seconds to move to 30 points in the overall standings, eight ahead of Hirvonen.

Daniel Sordo, Loeb's Spanish teammate with Citroen, remained third overall with 17 points after finishing fourth in Cyprus.

Muddy gravel tracks snaking across the Troodos mountain range again challenged drivers, as a cautious Loeb pushed his Citroen C4 hard enough in the event's final three stages to protect a lead accumulated over the previous two days.

"It's incredible," Loeb said of his 50th win. "It's like a dream. I'm very happy with what I've achieved, but I'm not finished yet. Next, I'm going for 51."

Hirvonen tried hard to make up the difference on Loeb, driving his Ford Focus to wins in two of the three stages.

"If it was drier, the result might have been different, but that's how it is," said Hirvonen. "We were faster today, though, hopefully we can take that speed to Portugal."

Petter Solberg, the 2004 world rally champion from Norway, did well in his 2001-built Citroen Xsara to claim third place after leapfrogging Sordo in the event's next-to-last stage. "I was so pleased with our stage win in Norway, but this is even more amazing," Solberg said. "I know this is an old car and maybe Citroen would like to finish ahead, but they should be proud about how good the Xsara still is."

Sebastien Ogier of France, who was in sixth place at the end of day two, retired with mechanical problems just short of the finish line.

Briton Matthew Wilson clinched fifth place in his Ford Focus by winning the final stage in the same time as Jari-Matti Latvalla of Finland.


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