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Loeb basks after winning eighth rally title

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CARDIFF, Wales, November 14 – Sebastien Loeb declared his pride at extending his stay among the legends of automobile racing Sunday, despite a final race abandon tinging his feat of an eighth consecutive world rally championship title.

Loeb virtually secured his crown on Friday when sole title rival Mikko Hirvonen of Finland abandoned on the third day of the Wales Rally GB.

The Frenchman suffered the same fate Sunday, leaving the race following an accident between the 18th and 19th stages to allow another Finn, Jari-Matti Latvala, to lead a Ford Fiesta podium sweep on the final day of racing this season.

Loeb’s Citroen collided head on with a car driven by a Spanish spectator, a friend of driver Dani Sordo, while making his way to the start of the 19th special stage.

Both he and co-driver Daniel Elena as well as the driver and passenger in the other car escaped unscathed but the Citroen was incapable of further action.

While cementing his place as rally’s biggest champion, Loeb’s achievement has been heralded by some as the best ever in motor sports — a claim he simultaneously played down and cherished.

“I’m very happy because eight titles is a new record,” said Loeb, who admitted he did not want to be compared to seven-time world formula one champion Michael Schumacher.

“I don’t want to compare (with Schumacher) but everyone’s talking about it, so I’m proud.

“It’s a very special achievement and the season itself has been special, and also difficult,” added Loeb, for whom Hirvonen remained a threat in the season’s final rally until his Friday setback.

“I had to fight a new challenger at almost each rally. We really had to give it everything, all the time, but once again we’ve come out on top.”

Latvala was left celebrating his first win this season, and fifth of his career, after finishing more than four minutes ahead of Norwegian duo Mads Ostberg and Henning Solberg.

“The whole year I have been waiting for a victory. It has been a long long time,” said Latvala, whose last victory came 18 months ago.

“It’s a great feeling, there have been very stressful and frustrating times. This is one of my great victories.”

It was also a welcome respite for Ford, who have yet to decide whether they continue in the championship next year after just three wins this term.

Although Hirvonen is rumoured to be driving for Citroen next year, Loeb says his career is far from over.

“Of course, my next objective is my next title,” added the Frenchman.

“I hope I can go on and win ten, but I have to take them all one at a time.

“Everything is possible, but I haven’t made definite plans.”

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